The board that administers the three-eighths cent sales tax that was collected for economic development voted Wednesday to ask Jefferson County Judge Gerald Robinson to contact the Arkansas Division of Legislative Audit to see if they would be willing to audit the board’s finances and operations for 2018.
The Economic Development Corp. of Jefferson County, commonly called the tax board, was meeting for the first time this year. Retired White Hall Mayor James “Jitters” Morgan brought up the subject of legislative audit during a discussion about selecting a firm to conduct it.
Morgan said that since the money the board administers is tax money, he believed legislative auditors should be contacted, particularly since their work would not require a fee. The auditors already monitor accounting procedures for all cities, counties and school districts in the state.
Before Morgan’s suggestion, board chairman George Makris said that Lovett and Company had served as the board’s auditors since 2011. They submitted a proposal for 2018, as did Hudson Cisne & Co., and Makris said he believed “it’s a good practice to have a fresh set of eyes” looking at the board’s books.
“I’m asking you to consider Hudson Cisne for the 2018 audit,” Makris said, adding that the board could look at the company’s work before deciding whether or not to use them for the next two years.
On a motion by Scott McGeorge, the board voted to investigate the public option (legislative audit) first, and if that were unavailable, to hire Hudson Cisne.
In other business, Lou Ann Nisbett, president and CEO of the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County, said the county is “on the short list for three different companies (to locate here), and I hope to have good news soon.”
She also reported on contract updates, saying that L&R Distributors had reached their required 200 employees, which fulfilled their agreement with the board.
L&R took over the operations of SAJ Distributing with the sale of the USA Drug Store chain by the LaFrance family and received money to buy trucks.
They received a one-year extension on their agreement in July 2018 in order to reach the number of jobs necessary, and Makris said one of the problems was that the company hired a lot of part-time employees, which did not count toward the contract total.
The extension in 2018 also renegotiated the agreement, allowing L&R to earn credit for the part-time employees by figuring the total number of hours worked.
“We were not interested in recouping money,” Makris said. “We were trying to encourage them to employ people in Jefferson County. They fulfilled their contact.”
The board approved releasing the liens and truck titles to the company.
Nisbett also said the ESP Energy Security Partners project is “moving along,” and the company is in the process of obtaining the necessary license. The natural-gas-to-liquid facility is projected to cost more than a billion dollars to construct.
Nisbett also announced that The Alliance is expected to name a replacement for Caleb McMahon, who was director of Economic Development until he resigned in March, in the next week or so. She said The Alliance will fill another position at the same time. Nisbett told the board that the announcements will be sent to The Commercial.