QC Talks Peco Road, Raises at Monthly Meeting

Thursday, February 26, 2015
Clay County Judge Gary Howell is pictured signing the proclamation for Severe Weather Awareness Week following last week's Quorum Court meeting at Corning. This year's observance in Arkansas is set for March 1 to 7.(Photo courtesy Clay County Courier)

Clay County Quorum Court members were updated Tuesday, Feb. 10 about the final phase of property acquisition procedures in order to widen and reconstruct County Road 142 - the main thoroughfare for Peco Foods, Inc. north of Corning.

Justices authorized County Judge Gary Howell to prepare a final draft easement for landowners along the road during the monthly quorum court meeting in the Western District Courthouse in Corning. Thus far, of the seven landowners affected, three have agreed upon a price for a section of their property, two are considering offers and two others are obstinate, according to Peco Appraiser Ben DeClerk. Offers were made for up to 40 percent over market value on two of the properties.

"We're trying to do everything possible to conclude a peaceful agreement that satisfies everyone," DeClerk said.

The final resort will be to take court action against any uncooperative landowners. Once the easement form has been presented for a final offer, Howell is empowered to begin condemnation of those properties.

The County owns a portion of the property but widening the road trespasses on the seven landowners. The roadwork includes an additional 10 feet of property. The County is entitled to 25 feet from the middle of the road on either side.

Peco first announced intention to locate in Corning just over a year ago. Howell said the Corning facility will host traffic of 100 semi trucks per day along the one-mile stretch of road which will cost just over $1 million to reconstruct.

Peco itself is a $40 million project that is expected to create 57 permanent jobs in Corning. The company also plans a larger facility in Pocahontas that will employ hundreds. More than 200 high tech, automated poultry houses will be built in Clay County. Peco plans to begin accepting grain next August.

DeClark said construction on the road is set to begin in May.

Road employee raises

Howell was required to have a special motion passed during Tuesday's meeting, enabling the judge to stand by a commitment he made to give all road department employees with at least one year of service a $1 per hour raise. Employees with less than one year of service had wages increase .50 cents per hour.

Some JPs expressed confusion over the request, arguing that they approved a raise last summer but excluded the top four positions from increases, and approved a salary cap on most positions. But Howell said the raises were across the board and approved during the presentation of his budget for fiscal year 2015. Last August the subject was introduced during the QC meeting in Corning in which justices authorized Howell to establish new wage caps for most employees in the road department. In setting the new cap, JPs agreed that employees who have been with the county for a long period of time serving as heavy equipment operators should get a $1 per hour raise, and new hires will be given more incentive to seek employment with the county.

Howell asked for the new cap because of a shortage in grader and track hoe operators that has plagued the county in recent months. According to Howell, the former $9 an hour wage was not enough to attract new employees. He also said it was embarrassing to have to pay long-term employees no more than $10 an hour.

"Grader operators in Poplar Bluff make about $19 an hour," Howell said. He said some operators have been with the county over 20 years and were making less than $10 an hour.

Justices wanted changes to the original ordinance which extended the wage cap to allow for raises, removing some of the administrative positions' wages. Those included road superintendent and crew leaders from the east and west sides of the county, and the maintenance superintendent from the east side of the county. Maintenance supervisor from the west side, along with truck drivers, grader and tractor operators and other laborers are included in the cap. Justices determined that the proposed cap would be decreased by $1.50 an hour, making the cap $26,000 for grader operators. The judge said he plans to hire-in employees at a lower wage but raise the wages over time. Howell said it was the first raise in six years.

JPs unanimously passed the motion Tuesday.

Other business

In other matters, County Clerk Pat Poole informed justices that the county should be receiving reimbursement for election expenses from both the state and local municipalities. The county should receive between $36,000-$40,000 once all the reimbursement funds are collected.

JPs passed two resolutions and two ordinances, appointed a delegate for QC Association, approved a measure to purchase a vehicle for the assessor's office and heard an update from Sheriff Terry Miller.

Unanimously passed was Resolution 2015-01 appropriating funding from Arkansas General Revenues for State owned Heritage Sites operated by Arkansas Delta Rural Communities. Resolution 2015-02 declared a vacancy in District No. 3 after the death of JP Ryan Rogers. Howell said Mike Hill is interested in filling the position.

Ordinance 2015-03 appropriates grant funds and amends 2015 budgets. Ordinance 2015-04 amended the employment policy handbook.

Justices agreed to look into purchasing a new or used vehicle for the assessor's office with a spending cap of $15,000. Sheriff Terry Miller said he would look at state bid vehicles for a four-wheel drive truck or SUV that could be utilized. JPs said they would prefer a new vehicle with a warranty. The former vehicle, a Blazer damaged beyond repair, was worth $4,969.

Sheriff Miller also reported that he has purchased a software system for citizens to pay their taxes online. The program required $3,500 set-up costs and will run $1,500 annually. In addition, Miller said the department is in the process of installing a new 911 system for the county.

Justices Jeff Douglas, Jim Clifton, Richie Culver, Dennis Haines, John Mansker, Greg Ahrent and Jody Henderson were present at the meeting which began with the prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. Justice David Cagle was absent.

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