Tuesday, March 28, 2017


Over the past several weeks members of the Southeast Arkansas Intermodal Authority have been visiting with the governing bodies of the cities of Warren and Monticello and Bradley County providing updates on the status of the intermodal park and asking each local government to continue to contribute tax dollars to the intermodal construction projects.  Plans are underway to address the Drew County Quorum Court in the near future.  For some time there have been questions among the city councils and quorum courts and the public concerning the purpose of the authority and whether or not the two cities and two counties are legally bound to pay local tax dollars into the authority.  There have been questions from some members of the authority's own board.  Let's see if we can help answer the questions and clarify the issues.

The Southeast Arkansas Intermodal Authority is a creation of the cities of Warren and Monticello and the counties of Bradley and Drew.  State law empowers local governments to join together and form an authority.  There are several throughout Arkansas.  Under no circumstances are the cities and counties automatically liable for any expenses incurred by the authority.  Never have been.  Only by a vote of the city councils and quorum courts are any of them authorized to contribute money.  In the beginning, such action was taken by the four local governing bodies to provide matching funds to go with grants received by the authority.
Those grants were completed and all bills were paid.  Later Warren, Monticello, Bradley County and Drew County continued to budget additional funds to contribute to the authority on a year to year basis.   Each entity budgeted different amounts and some did not always budget any money. The Intermodal Authority secured more grant funding and continued to develop the park without any legal commitment from the local governments to provide the specific matching requirements.  As a result, the authority began borrowing money to meet its obligations.  Bradley County quit contributing and Drew County gave sporadically.  Warren and Monticello continued with modest annual contributions as approved by their city councils.  Never was a beginning to end financial plan put in place by the intermodal authority.  It appears the cities and counties were just expected to pay all the local grant matches and ongoing expenses.

Now, what is the purpose of the intermodal and why was it started in the first place?  The idea was to build an industrial park capable of providing multiple methods of transportation for goods to be shipped in and out for local industry and to entice new companies to move to South Arkansas to take advantage of the various transportation modes.  The facility is located on U. S. Highway 278 and is at the intersection of what will, hopefully, someday be Interstate 530 running north.  In addition, proposed Interstate 69, if ever built, will provide access from Canada to Mexico.  So the park would have the ability to ship by highway, by rail, which runs right through the property, and by water with access to the Yellow Bend Port on the Mississippi River to the east.  Easy and less expensive transportation could help our existing industry and draw new companies to this region.  To add to these benefits, a major pipeline is near the park making the possibility of moving liquid freight easier and cheaper.

Never was the intention of the intermodal to take away from industrial efforts by Warren and Monticello.  The plan was and is to provide services that would help grow the entire region and bring jobs and economic growth.  In fact there was, and hopefully remains, an agreement that any taxes generated by the authority, such as local sales taxes or property taxes, will be shared by the four creating governments. (Monticello, Warren, Bradley County, Drew County)  This is important because the entire park lies within Drew County.

In other action, the authority entered an agreement with the City of Monticello to sell the authority water and to treat any sewage generated within the park.  While the project progressed, a grant was received from the Delta Regional Authority which required no local match, thus allowing the DRA funds to actually count as a portion of the local match.  The authority is now being told that additional state funds may be made available that may be used to pay off debt incurred by the authority. It is unknown at this time as to any restrictions relating to the state money.  It is still unknown how much, if any, the authority will owe once the project is 100% completed and all grants and/or future state funds are expended.  If sufficient funding comes through, the entire debt could be paid in full.

With Warren and Monticello continuing to contribute and Drew County putting funds in during 2017, at least a portion of the existing debt should be covered.  Remember, the cities and counties can only contribute the amount approved on a year to year basis.  No amount of funding is guaranteed in future years.  There is also the issue of the local governments not having paid equal amounts once the project is completed.  There is also the matter of ongoing routine expenditures such as electrical cost and insurance.

The most serious concern to many, has been the lack of understanding as to the purpose of the intermodal and the assumption, by at least some people, that the cities and counties were legally liable to pay any and all incurred debt of the intermodal authority. That was never true and remains the case today.  The intermodal was created by law as a stand alone entity.  It can sell land, rent or lease land and make deals with private business.  It cannot  incur debt on behalf of the cities and counties unless authorized by the councils and quorum courts or by a vote of the people of the two counties.  It is therefore vital that the intermodal move forward with solid, detailed financial plans and not assumptions that lead the citizens to believe their locally elected officials are responsible for expenses that have not been authorized by the local governments and are subject to not being appropriated in the future.

Economic development is important to this region of Arkansas and is definitely important to Warren and Bradley County.  It is also important that the public be properly informed as to the purpose of the intermodal authority and that misleading information not go unchallenged.

Remember, the board of the intermodal is made up of three persons appointed by each city and each county.  Those currently serving from Bradley County include the following:
City of Warren appointees-Dr. Bob Smalling, Rick Warner, Roger George
Bradley County appointees-John M. Lipton, Rep Jeff Wardlaw, Freddie Mobley

Whether or not the intermodal is a good idea is not the issue.  The issue is planning, management and supervision.    

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