The Pine Bluff Wastewater Utility Commission is still waiting for an upstart poultry company to pay its overdue bill of more than $41,000 before it issues an operation permit to the business.
On Tuesday, commission members Lloyd Holcomb Sr., Carolyn Ferguson and Vandora Demery discussed Summit Poultry Inc., which owes $41,521.95 to the utility. Wastewater Utility Manager Ken Johnson said the company will not be issued a permit until it pays this debt. As a result, Summit is thereby prohibited from using the utility’s services until it ponies up the cash.
“I feel the wastewater utility has been very reasonable,” Johnson said. “We are basically still in limbo. I will be glad to have any face-to-face meeting if they bring us a check for the full amount.”
Johnson said he took part in a recent meeting with a Summit Poultry representative. If Summit begins operations and uses the wastewater utility’s system without paying its debt, Johnson said he will promptly notify the authorities.
The issue is a default judgment the wastewater utility obtained against Horizon Foods for unpaid wastewater bills. Horizon initially opened the former Tyson Foods plant in 2012 but shut down in June 2013 after financial difficulties. Summit Poultry acquired the property in December 2013 but shut down a few months later, also due to financial troubles. Summit assumed all the debts of Horizon Foods — including the wastewater bill — when they acquired the property, which has been vacant since then.
Summit officials have announced that they have proper financial backing this time and are prepared to begin operations.
Joshua West, an attorney representing Summit Poultry, submitted a written proposal to re-start wastewater service to the plant at 2201 W. Second St.
“Summit will immediately make an initial payment to Pine Bluff Wastewater Utility of $10,380.48 toward the $41,521.95 judgment entered against Horizon in July of 2016,” West said in a letter.
“Summit will also pay installments of $1,730.08 per month for twelve months. To allow Summit to begin operating and generating cash flow, the first monthly installment will occur no earlier than 90 days and no later than 120 days after service is re-started. Additionally, Summit will also pay in full an old, unpaid bill, which was accrued under Summit’s prior ownership, and which Summit understands to be in the amount of $4,263.89 (for a total immediate payment by Summit to PBWU of $14,644.37) Summit is also prepared to pay the normal application fee to re-start service.”
“In exchange, after the initial payments and the total of the installments are made, PBWU grants a full release of any and all liens or claims it may have against Horizon or the plant, including, but not limited to the judgment and a release of any and all liens of claims it may have against Summit that accrued prior to re-starting service under this agreement. With these terms, Summit also seeks approval of an installment grace period of up to seven business days from the due date in which to deliver each payment. An agreement upon these terms will result in a reduction of the amount paid in relation to the Horizon judgment to $31,141.44.”
The commissioners rejected Summit’s offer.
“It is not like it’s a new company,” Holcomb said. “This is their third time. They rotate their players and change their name. And I think they are taking wastewater kind of lightly. … If we agree to the terms of this letter, they would be sinking deeper into debt.”
Johnson mentioned that the wastewater utility receives routine audits, and the poultry company’s outstanding debt is reflected in the audit reports. Summit Poultry Inc. would generate more than 100 jobs in Pine Bluff, the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County announced earlier this month.
In other news, Johnson recognized Cameron Strong, a recent graduate of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, with a degree in biology who interned at the wastewater utility. Johnson and environmental compliance supervisor Vincent Miles lauded Strong for his work as a laboratory intern.
Strong said he intends to earn a master’s degree to become a physician assistant.
Strong worked under the supervision of Miles. He took samples of water at a treatment plant, performed analysis and kept records.
“We are so glad to have him as part of the program,” Johnson said. “He did an outstanding job.’
In other news, Johnson presented a budget of $6,450,000 for 2017. The commissioners approved this budget without discussion. The 2016 budget was approximately $5,800,000, Johnson said.
Commissioners Paul Bennett and Lafayette Woods Jr. were absent.