Botto: Horizon formulating payment arrangements

Horizon Foods Vice President Rory Botto said Friday evening that the financially troubled poultry processing plant is formulating a plan to satisfy debts to Pine Bluff Wastewater Utility and other creditors and intends to remain in business.

“We don’t have any intention of quitting,” Botto said. “We’re doing everything possible to become a prosperous company and paying our debts.”

Botto said he had discussed the matter with Lou Ann Nisbett, president and chief executive officer of The Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County, in a Thursday night conversation.

“We talked about putting (Horizon’s) creditors on a payment schedule,” he said. “The trouble we’ve had is frustrating for them and for me, too.”

The Alliance was hired by the Economic Development Corp. of Jefferson County to help oversee the panel’s appropriations of revenues from a three-eighths cent sales tax approved by county voters in 2011 and earmarked for job creation. Horizon received a $329,000 incentive from the development group last year.

Earlier this week, The Commercial reported that the city is considering seeking a court judgment against Horizon in an effort to collect $26,620.50 in unpaid sewer fees from December through February. PBWU Manager Ken Johnson said then that he was unaware of any effort by Horizon to pay its bill, which he added was the largest unpaid debt he had seen in his 30-year career.

However, Botto said Friday that he had spoken to Johnson about the matter before the Wednesday article and again on Friday.

“I’m working with him to get current,” Botto said. “It won’t be overnight, but we’ll get there.”

Botto pointed out in a March interview that Horizon — which began operations in July 2012 — had surpassed its anticipated start-up expenses by $1.7 million. He said much of that amount resulted from losses due to thefts within the former Tyson plant, which was purchased by Horizon in November 2011. Before Horizon was ready to begin its processing of spent laying hens primarily for foreign markets, thieves took copper wiring and plumbing pipes from the building, which they also vandalized.

Adding to Horizon’s initial woes were worldwide economic conditions and market problems that included a seasonal delay in deliveries of hens to the plant.

Botto said Horizon’s 190 employees are receiving their salaries.