Judge’s Ruling Ends Landfill Fee

by: Karen Hopper, KTLO

After months of speculation, a Pulaski County Circuit Court judge’s ruling has officially ended the collection of an annual assessment fee enacted in 2017 as payment for the debt incurred to purchase the NABORS waste hauling operation and landfill in Baxter County. In a ruling filed late Wednesday, Judge Tim Fox says the $18 annual assessment fee against each residence and business parcel in the six counties originally comprising the Ozark Mountain Solid Waste District shall cease being collected for the tax year 2020 and in the future. The ruling comes after Fayetteville attorneys Matt Bishop and Wendy Howerton of Fayetteville filed a series of class-action lawsuits in the district’s then six counties beginning in May 2018.
The first of the lawsuits was filed in Carroll County Circuit Court on behalf of Paul Summers as an “illegal extraction,” contending violation of the separation of powers clause in the Arkansas Constitution. The suit maintained the solid waste district does not have the authority to impose a fee without providing services and the fee is excessive.

Circuit court judges in five of the six counties would rule in favor of Bishop and Howerton that the assessment was not a fee, but instead a tax, leading to this week’s ruling by Judge Fox.

Bishop says now what remains to be done is the refunding of the money collected for the tax years 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Judge Fox’s ruling follows action earlier this year by the Arkansas legislature with the first step toward relief for property owners in the solid waste district. Retirement of the debt included payoff of over $12 million to bond holders, plus approximately $18 million to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality for the expense of closing the local landfill. The combined $30 million expense was estimated to take 30 years for a payoff.

Special language in a legislative appropriation bill earlier this year set aside the funding ADEQ could recoup for its expenses in closing the landfill, leaving unanswered the outcome of the $12 million to the bond holders.

The operation was purchased in 2005 by the solid waste district. The district defaulted on the payment of principal and interest to the bondholders in November 2012 and stopped trash collections. Two years later, the district sought bankruptcy protection, with a federal court judge throwing out the case.

After the district defaulted on its debt, Bank of the Ozarks — as trustee of the bondholders — sued the district in Pulaski County Circuit Court, leading to the judgment in 2017 and the controversial annual fee.

More of the story including an interview with Matt Bishop can be found on the KTLO Website.



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