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Utility notes progress on storm PCA

Efforts by Paragould Light, Water and Cable (PLWC) to recoup the costs of February’s record cold weather are beginning to show results.

As revealed at a recent meeting of the PLWC board of commissioners, the utility has recovered $147,000 of the $5.7 million in extra costs to buy electrical power during the period Feb. 12-19.

Utility Chief Financial Officer Janet Chronister told the board the storm power cost adjustment (PCA) it had implemented at the February board meeting is now being billed to customers across all billing cycles.

“The due date for those bills was in April,” she said, “so we have been collecting that now.”

Chronister told the board the transfer of the $147,000 collected thus far from working capital to reserves should take place in May.

“We’ll do that each month,” she said. “Whatever it looks like we are [recovering through the storm PCA], we’ll transfer over to reserves.”

The storm PCA, as finalized at the March 17 meeting, comes out to about 1/2-cent per kilowatt-hour of electricity used, such that a household that uses 2,000 KwH per month should expect an increase of about $10 per month. It therefore will produce revenue that will vary directly in accordance with electrical usage throughout the city each month.

“It can go up or it can go down,” Chronister said, “depending on kilowatt hours.”

Nonetheless, the storm PCA is expected to rebuild the utility’s cash reserve total back to $10 million by the time it expires in April 2024.

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City honors Jaco at Arbor Day ceremony

The city of Paragould has combined its Arbor Day proclamation with a tree-planting to honor one of its long-serving employees.

“Lorna Jaco cooked for us, she loved us, she ‘had our six,’ and worked for us for 9-1/2 years,” said city Human Resources Director Tisha Baldwin at the April 30 Arbor Day ceremony in the southeast corner of Linwood Cemetery. “And she’d still be working with us if she could.”

Jaco, a former police dispatcher, was also the secretary in the City Inspector’s Office. She is currently under hospice care.

As previously reported, Jaco is suffering from glioblastoma.

At the conclusion of her comments, city cemetery sexton Brian Horn and deputy director of public works Wayne Ellenburg planted a Nuttall oak tree in a vacant area of the cemetery.

“I hope that when we see the tree,” Baldwin said, “we think of Lorna.”

In his proclamation of April 30 as Arbor Day, Paragould Mayor Josh Agee traced the history of Arbor Day from its roots in Nebraska, which first proclaimed a special day for tree planting in 1872. After the planting of one million trees on this first “Arbor Day,” the day eventually became celebrated throughout the country.

In his proclamation, Agee noted the environmental benefits of trees by reducing soil erosion, cutting heating an cooling costs, helping moderate temperatures, providing habitats for wildlife, cleaning the air and producing life-giving oxygen.

Agee also said trees provide a renewable resource, from which paper, wood for construction and fuel for fires can be obtained. He concluded by saying trees increase property values, enhance economic vitality of businesses, beautify the community, and “are a source of joy and spiritual renewal.”

Agee said the City Beautiful Commission had already identified the Linwood Cemetery as a location in which to plant trees. “The potential is unlimited,” he said.

The Arbor Day proclamation follows enactment of an ordinance at the March 22 meeting of the city council establishing, among other things, the City Beautiful Commission as the “tree board” in addition to its regular functions. The proclamation of Arbor Day was the last in a series of requirements set by the national Arbor Day Foundation, fulfillment of which enables the city to become a “tree city.”

Restrictions easing in US and Europe amid disaster in India

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Air travel in the U.S. hit its highest mark since COVID-19 took hold more than 13 months ago, while European Union officials are proposing to ease restrictions on visitors to the continent as the vaccine rollout sends new cases and deaths tumbling in more affluent countries.

The improving picture in many places contrasts with the worsening disaster in India.

In the U.S., the average number of new cases per day fell below 50,000 for the first time since October. And nearly 1.67 million people were screened at U.S. airport checkpoints on Sunday, according to the Transportation Security Administration, the highest number since mid-March of last year.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation giving him sweeping powers to invalidate local emergency measures put in place during the outbreak. While the law doesn’t go into effect until July, the Republican governor said he would issue an executive order to more quickly get rid of local mask mandates.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future,” DeSantis said, “but I think this creates a structure that’s going to be a little bit more respectful, I think, of people’s businesses, jobs, schools and personal freedom.”

Las Vegas is bustling again after casino capacity limits were raised Saturday to 80 percent and person-to-person distancing dropped to 3 feet (0.9 meters). And New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that New York City’s subways will begin rolling all night again and capacity restrictions for most businesses will end statewide in mid-May.

EU officials also announced a proposal Monday to relax restrictions on visiting the 27-nation bloc this summer, though the final decision is up to its member countries.

“Time to revive EU tourism industry and for cross-border friendships to rekindle – safely,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said. “We propose to welcome again vaccinated visitors and those from countries with a good health situation.”

In Greece, restaurants and cafes reopened their terraces on Monday after six months of shutdown, with customers flocking to soak up the sunshine. In France, high schools reopened and a ban on domestic travel was lifted.

But with more-contagious variants taking hold, efforts are underway to boost vaccination efforts, which have begun to lag. The average number of doses given per day fell 27 percent from a high of 3.26 million on April 11 to 2.37 million last Tuesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Detroit, officials began going door-to-door to persuade residents to get immunized. And Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced plans to close four of seven mass vaccination sites by the end of June in favor of a more targeted approach.

“My plea to everyone: Get vaccinated now, please,” President Joe Biden said in Norfolk, Virginia. He stressed that he has worked hard to make sure there are more than 600 million doses of vaccine – enough for all Americans to get both doses.

“We’re going to increase that number across the board as well so we can also be helping other nations once we take care of all Americans,” the president said.

Brazil, once the epicenter of the pandemic, has been overtaken by a surge in India that has overrun crematoriums and made it clear the p andemic is far from over.

As the U.S. and other countries rushed in aid, India reported nearly 370,000 new cases and more than 3,400 deaths Monday – numbers that experts believe are vast undercounts because of a widespread lack of testing and incomplete reporting.

In Germany, Bavarian officials canceled Oktoberfest for a second year in a row because of the safety risks. The beer-drinking festivities typically attract about 6 million visitors from around the world.

And in Italy, medical experts and politicians expressed concern about a possible spike in infections after tens of thousands of jubilant soccer fans converged on Milan’s main square Sunday to celebrate Inter Milan’s league title.

Tests reveal DNA evidence in executed Arkansas inmate's case

LITTLE ROCK (AP) — DNA testing from a 1993 killing in Arkansas has revealed genetic material from a male other than the inmate executed for the murder four years ago, two groups said Friday.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Innocence Project released summaries of the testing of evidence from the 1993 murder of Debra Reese. Ledell Lee, who was convicted of her murder, was one of four inmates executed by Arkansas in 2017.

The city of Jacksonville last year agreed to allow new tests on fingerprints and DNA evidence after the groups had sued.

The groups said the testing revealed DNA material from an unknown male other than Lee on the wooden club used to kill Reese and a bloody shirt that was wrapped around it. The groups said the DNA profile did not match any in a national database.

The groups also said that five fingerprints that had been discovered at the crime scene in 1993 were run in a national database but remain unidentified.

“While the results obtained twenty-nine years after the evidence was collected proved to be incomplete and partial, it is notable that there are now new DNA profiles that were not available during the trial or post-conviction proceedings in Mr. Lee’s case,” Nina Morrison, Senior Litigation Counsel at the Innocence Project, said in a statement.

Morrison said the groups hoped that the databases would generate additional information in the future.

Lee was the first of four inmates Arkansas executed in April 2017 before its supply of a lethal injection drug expired. The state had originally planned to execute eight inmates, but four were spared by court rulings. Arkansas hasn’t executed any inmates since April 2017.

Court accepts pleas in aggravated assault, burglary cases

The Greene County Circuit Court has accepted pleas, or otherwise disposed of, the following criminal cases, as indicated:

Johnny Ray Sisco, 66, has negotiated a plea of guilty to a charge of one count of aggravated assault on a family or household member, a Class C felony. He was sentenced to time served (52 days) in the Greene County Detention Center (GCDC) and to 48 months probation. He was also fined $500, ordered to give a DNA sample, and ordered to pay $690 in costs and fees, plus a monthly fee of $35 for probation supervision. If his probation is revoked, he could be sentenced to up to six years (less 52 days credit for time served) in the Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) and/or a fine of up to $9,500.

Ashley Taylor, 26, has negotiated a plea of guilty to a charge of one count of commercial burglary, a Class C felony. In return, she was not prosecuted on other charges. She was sentenced to time served (49 days) in the GCDC and to 48 months probation. She was also ordered to pay $440 in costs and fees, plus a monthly probation supervision fee of $35. Revocation of her probation could subject her to up to 10 years (less 50 days credit for time served) in the ADC, a fine of up to $10,000 or both.

James Allen Copeland, 43, has negotiated a plea of guilty to a charge of one count of possession of drug paraphernalia to ingest, etc. a Class D felony. He did not face prosecution on other charges. He was sentenced to 48 months suspended imposition of sentence, fined $1,000, and ordered to pay $565 in costs and fees. Should his suspension be vacated, he could face up to six years in the ADC and/or a fine of up to $9,000.

Franklin Allen Neer, 27, has negotiated a plea of guilty to a charge of one count of possession of drug paraphernalia to ingest, etc. a Class D felony. He was sentenced to time served (53 days) in the GCDC and to suspended imposition of sentence. He was also ordered to give a DNA sample, fined $500, ordered to pay $815 in costs and fees. If he violates the terms of the suspension, he could be sentenced to up to six years (less 53 days credit for time served) in the ADC, a fine of up to $9,500 or both.

Robert Allen Scaggs, 29, has negotiated a plea of guilty to charges of one count each of second-degree terroristic threatening and first-degree criminal mischief, both Class A misdemeanors. He was sentenced to time served (47 days) in the GCDC and to 12 months probation. He was also ordered to pay $440 in costs and fees, plus a $35 monthly fee for probation supervision. In addition, he was also ordered to appear at a restitution hearing on June 28, to determine any amount of restitution to be paid. Revocation of his probation could see him sentenced to two years (less 94 days credit for time served) in the GCDC.