by: Karen Hopper, KTLO
As expected, following action by the Arkansas Legislature earlier this year, the Arkansas Division of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) has petitioned to write-off the debt it incurred in the closure of the landfill in northern Baxter County.
Online Pulaski County Circuit Court documents indicate, earlier this week, ADEQ advised it is not seeking any of the $2.3 million collected through an $18 annual assessment fee over the past two years against each residence and business parcel in the six original counties comprising the Ozark Mountain Solid Waste District.
The fee is the outcome of a Pulaski County Circuit Court ruling in 2017 approving the recommendation of an appointed receiver to find a way to pay the debt incurred in purchasing the NABORS waste hauling operation and the landfill.
Retirement of the debt includes payoff of over $12 million to bond holders, plus approximately $18 million to ADEQ. The combined $30 million expense was estimated to take 30 years for a payoff.
Special language sponsored in 2014 by then-Sen. Johnny Key of Mountain Home created a path for ADEQ to recoup the $18 million expended for the closure of the landfill, leading to that portion of the calculation in the judge’s ruling.
But new special language sponsored by Sen. Bob Ballinger of Berryville inserted into an appropriation bill earlier this year set aside the funding ADEQ could recoup under the action Key sponsored.
In May, Senator Ballinger told KTLO, Classic Hits and The Boot news he worked with local senators Scott Flippo and Missy Irvin on the new special language seeking relief for property owners he hoped would lead to ADEQ petitioning the court to finalize this action within the next couple of months.
ADEQ’s action comes on the heels of a development last week in Pulaski County Circuit Court.
Online court documents filed last Friday indicate Judge Tim Fox issued an order in response to a petition from Bank OZK, formerly known as Bank of the Ozarks, serving as trustee for the unnamed bondholders. In the petition, Bank OZK notes it is in possession of $2.3 million in taxpayer collected fees from 2018 and 2019. It notes “by reason of the conflicting claims and interests in the funds,” Bank OZK and the receiver “may be exposed to multiple lawsuits or liability, or to inconsistent judgments and orders.”
Judge Fox approved the petition from Bank OZK relinquishing the funds and giving 30 days for any parties to claim interest in or entitlement to any of the monies an opportunity to respond.
Judge Fox ordered the court appointed receiver to stop the defense of the fee and the appeal of five circuit court rulings.
The circuit court rulings Fox referenced were suits filed in each of the counties in the solid waste district in 2018.
The bulk of the suits are the same, but the plaintiffs are individual residents of each county. Fayetteville lawyers Matt Bishop and Wendy Howerton filed all of the suits.
Each of the suits alleges the court-ordered $18 fee collected on business and residential property taxes is actually a tax and an illegal exaction. They ask the court to block collection of the fee.
Some, including the attorney for the solid waste board, John Verkamp, say Judge Fox’s order appeared to point to the termination of the annual assessment fee.
However, in an online court document filed this week, the court-appointed receiver notes it is his belief “Bank OZK is exploring the possibility of taking up the appeals.”
Earlier this week, the Ozark Mountain Solid Waste Board voted unanimously not to appeal Judge Fox’s order.
The board, ADEQ and Bank OZK are all parties in the original Pulaski County case.