Town hall set for $18 landfill assessment fee discussion

A town hall forum is set for Wednesday, March 28th to address citizen concerns regarding the controversial $18 annual assessment fee against each residence and business parcel to pay the debt incurred in purchasing the NABORS waste hauling operation and the local landfill. The forum will be held at 2 p.m. in the second floor courtroom of the Baxter County Courthouse.

The $18 annual assessment against each residence and business parcel in the six-county Ozark Mountain Solid Waste District follows a Pulaski County judge’s April 2017 order. The order is a result of a saga that began when the Northwest Arkansas Regional Solid Waste District defaulted on the payment of principal and interest to the bondholders in November 2012 and stopped trash collections. After the district defaulted on its debt, Bank of the Ozarks–as trustee of the bondholders–sued the district in Pulaski County Circuit Court. With the judge’s ruling came the appointment of Attorney Geoffrey Treece of Little Rock as a court appointed receiver.

State Representative Nelda Speaks of Mountain Home says she has received confirmation an attorney from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality will be in attendance at the forum. She is awaiting confirmation from Attorney Treece that he will attend. Representative Speaks, Senator Scott Flippo of Bull Shoals and Representative Jack Fortner of Yellville are coordinating the forum.

Speaks says the forum is a question and answer session only, not to be confused with the type of meeting held in Marshall Saturday which proposes to begin the process of fighting the $18 fee. She says the meeting is not intended to lead area residents to think there is a way out of paying.

In the March Baxter County Quorum Court meeting, Judge Mickey Pendergrass said the court appointed receiver planned to hold public forums across the six-county district. The forums are designed to give residents an opportunity to address their questions and concerns.

Treece was in attendance Saturday evening in Marshall for a community meeting.

The Harrison Daily Times reported the meeting attracted people from across the six-county area covered in the Ozark Mountain Solid Waste District — Baxter, Boone, Carroll, Marion, Newton and Searcy. Established by the state legislature in 1989, the district was governed by a board of directors made up mainly of county judges and mayors of first-class cities in the district or their designees.

According to the Times, the goal of the meeting was to find a solid way to fight the $18 fee assessed on property taxes to first pay back bond holders who invested to allow the solid waste district to buy RLH Landfill in northern Baxter County, then to pay back the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality for cleaning up the landfill and permanently closing it.

Paying back bond holders for the $12.3 million in bonds issued for the purchase is estimated to take about 20 years, then the ADEQ’s bill for clean-up at about $16 million kicks in after that.

The solid waste district bought the landfill in 2005. It was supposed to be a depository for solid waste for the six counties in the district for 50 years. The bonds were guaranteed only by revenue from tipping fees, the fees trash haulers pay to dump trash.

The landfill was renamed NABORS, an acronym for the North Arkansas Board of Regional Sanitation. That was an alliance of Mountain Home and Baxter and Marion counties formed to try to buy the landfill with revenue from a proposed sales tax that never came to fruition.

Three counties (Carroll, Newton and Searcy) soon stopped taking trash to NABORS as tipping fees continued to rise to help pay for getting the landfill back into compliance with ADEQ regulations — ADEQ had already cited the landfill for being overfilled when the district bought it from RLH, Inc. Counties also complained of bad access roads that were hard on hauling vehicles.

With less revenue from tipping fees, the landfill fell on financial hard times. In 2012, the solid waste district defaulted on bond payments, the first time a public entity did so in the state’s history.

The district tried to file for bankruptcy protection, but the judge ruled the district wasn’t eligible because it could have been collecting fees for trash service from all residents in the district whether they used the service or not.

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