Dierks aldermen finalize Weyerhauser land, tax deal

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    DIERKS – A huge boon was granted to Weyerhauser Corporation by the Dierks city council during their regular monthly meeting Monday evening.
    The city council heard the long discussed ordinance that would establish a complicated legal maneuver which would result in reduced property taxation for the company. The payment in lieu of taxes scheme was established in Arkansas law more than 30 years ago to provide incentives for businesses locating in the state, and provides a way for businesses to be exempt from up to 65 percent of property taxes for as long as 20 years.
    The agreement reached between Weyerhauser and the city of Dierks does offer the full 65 percent reduction of taxes, but for a reduced period of 15 years, for property where the company will be constructing a new mill to replace the mill they currently operate in the city. Dierks Schools superintendent Holly Cothren, who attended the meeting, stated that the net impact for the district, which is the major recipient of property taxes for the area, is largely positive because the company will still be paying property taxes on the existing mill for seven of the 15 years of the agreement, as well as the 35 percent of property taxes for the new facility.
    Attorney Michelle Allgood with the Mitchell Williams Firm of Little Rock presented council members with the prepared ordinance, which they moved to adopt that night and to put in an emergency clause for the measure to take effect more quickly.
    The details of the arrangement involve the city selling bonds to Weyerhauser to generate funds to buy the land from the company, while at the same time leasing the land back to the company, who will indemnify the city from any legal liability for the property – effectively, the property does not change hands and the cost to the city is negligible, according to Allgood. Cothren then reported that as she understood it, the term of the agreement would not begin until construction on the new facility was completed.
    The council approved the measure unanimously.
    The remainder of the meeting saw quick coverage of a number of topics, including:
    • A report from Mayor Terry Mounts that the city water system had seen a number of leaks in the vicinity of Old Highway 70, and that the water department had ordered a device to regulate water pressure on the line to help prevent future leaks.
    • A report from the members of the park commission present that the body had not held a meeting in the past three months, and that they additionally were concerned that the concessions contract was not being followed. Mounts expressed frustration with the lack of activity from the group, but did not state an immediate course of action.
    • A request from Mounts to advertise a disused police cruiser for sale. The council approved the measure.
    • A review of the city’s budget through the first quarter, which showed that the police, sanitation and streets departments were all well within budget thusfar, but reported the city fire department as already having spent two-thirds of their allotted funds for the year.
    • A brief executive session to review performance of Jason Brown, who had been hired six months ago to work in the sanitation department. After the four minute executive session, the council voted to approve a dollar per hour raise for Brown, making his new rate $10.25 per hour. Council member Roddy Smith abstained from the vote, stating that Brown was a relative.