Sim­mons bond is­sue plan draws mixed views

Westside Eagle-Observer - - NEWS - TOM SISSOM tsis­som@nwadg.com

BEN­TONVILLE — Ben­ton County’s jus­tices of the peace heard a mix of op­po­si­tion and praise March 27 for a poul­try pro­cess­ing plant Sim­mons Foods is plan­ning near Gen­try. The Quo­rum Court hosted a pub­lic hear­ing on an in­dus­trial rev­enue bond is­sue, with the amount not to ex­ceed $400 mil­lion, for the com­pany be­fore the March 27 meet­ing.

Jimmy Roberts, who told the jus­tices of the peace he lives about a mile from the plant site on Arkansas 59, said he op­poses the plant but, if it’s ap­proved, he wants Sim­mons to do more to mit­i­gate the ef­fect of the plant on sur­round­ing prop­erty.

“I’m to­tally against what you’re do­ing here,” Roberts said. “I’m against where it’s go­ing to be. But if it’s go­ing to hap­pen, Sim­mons should be held ac­count­able for the flood­ing it’s go­ing to cause.”

Roberts said he has al­ready seen more runoff from the site than what he said hap­pened in the past. He also said he wanted as­sur­ances the poul­try plant and the De­catur wastew­a­ter treat­ment plant wouldn’t pol­lute area wa­ter­ways.

De­catur Mayor Bob Tharp said his city has al­ready ap­proved $8.9 mil­lion for up­grades to the city’s wastew­a­ter treat­ment plant. He said the work is needed and hav­ing Sim­mons as a customer is es­sen­tial to be­ing able to make those im­prove­ments.

Fer­nando Gar­cia of Fayet­teville, an or­ga­nizer for the North­west Arkansas Work­ers’ Jus­tice Cen­ter, told the jus­tices of the peace he’s con­cerned about the work­ing con­di­tions for Sim­mons em­ploy­ees. He likened some poul­try plant em­ploy­ment to “mod­ern-day slav­ery con­di­tions.”

“We do need jobs, but we need jobs with dig­nity and re­spect,” he said.

Wayne Mays, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Siloam Springs Cham­ber of Com­merce, told the jus­tices of the peace Sim­mons has op­er­ated a num­ber of fa­cil­i­ties in Siloam Springs for years with no com­plaints.

“You could not ask for a bet­ter cor­po­rate ci­ti­zen and neigh­bor than Sim­mons Foods,” he said.

Sim­mons plans to build a 400,000-square-foot poul­try pro­cess­ing fa­cil­ity at 9802 Arkansas 59, ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion sub­mit­ted to Ben­ton County. The build­ing site would take about 100 acres.

David Jack­son, Sim­mons pres­i­dent and chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer for pre­pared foods, has said the com­pany needs to move from down­town De­catur be­cause space is lim­ited, and the com­pany wants to ex­pand the op­er­a­tion. Jack­son said the com­pany has about 700 em­ploy­ees at the De­catur lo­ca­tion and will have about 900 at the new lo­ca­tion when it opens. Over a pe­riod of three to four years, the com­pany plans to ex­pand to 2,300 em­ploy­ees, he said.

The Sim­mons plant would op­er­ate 24 hours a day Sun­day through Fri­day with three shifts each day — two pro­duc­tion shifts and one cleanup shift, Jack­son said. He es­ti­mated the plant will have trucks driv­ing on and off the site about ev­ery six min­utes. Jack­son said the com­pany has asked for a traf­fic sig­nal at the plant en­trance and is await­ing the Arkansas Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion’s de­ci­sion. Turn lanes will be added to Arkansas 59 for both north­bound and south­bound traf­fic, he said.

Busi­nesses us­ing in­dus­trial rev­enue bond fi­nanc­ing from the state can ne­go­ti­ate with the lo­cal com­mu­nity for prop­erty tax re­lief for eli­gi­ble busi­nesses in the form of pay­ment in lieu of tax agree­ment, as Sim­mons has done in this in­stance.

Ben­ton County Judge Barry Moehring has said the Sim­mons plant in De­catur gen­er­ates about $154,283 in prop­erty taxes. Un­der the pay­ment in lieu of tax pro­gram, the com­pany would pay $1,092,000 an­nu­ally as a pay­ment in lieu of taxes, in­creas­ing the prop­erty tax rev­enue by about $937,717. The amount is less than the com­pany would pay in as­sessed prop­erty taxes at the new site. Ac­cord­ing to Moehring, the 870 acres near Gen­try where the com­pany is plan­ning the new plant cur­rently gen­er­ates about $2,400 in prop­erty taxes.

Res­i­dents have op­posed plans for the fa­cil­ity through­out the plan­ning process and dur­ing the ini­tial Quo­rum Court meet­ing at which the bond is­sue was con­sid­ered.

More than 50 peo­ple at­tended a Dec. 6 Plan­ning Board meet­ing, with peo­ple sit­ting in the aisles and stand­ing in the door­way through­out the pub­lic hear­ing about the Sim­mons pro­posal. Res­i­dents voiced con­cerns about in­creased traf­fic, ad­verse ef­fect on prop­erty value, pos­si­ble ground­wa­ter con­tam­i­na­tion and the po­ten­tial leaks of haz­ardous chem­i­cals used in the fa­cil­ity. Res­i­dents made sim­i­lar com­ments at the Feb. 22 Quo­rum Court meet­ing, where the bond is­sue or­di­nance was on its first read­ing.

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