End of the annual $18 trash fee debt collection appears in sight

The Ozark Mountain Solid Waste District Board will meet in a special session Monday morning regarding recent court developments in what appears to be the termination of the annual assessment fee being collected as payment for the debt incurred to purchase the NABORS waste hauling operation and local landfill. The meeting will be held at 10 at Harrison City Hall.

Board chairman Fred Woehl of Boone County says the primary purpose of Monday’s meeting will be to discuss and take necessary action concerning a hearing last Monday in Pulaski County Circuit Court.

It was a ruling by Judge Tim Fox in 2017 in Pulaski County that set the stage for an $18 annual assessment fee against each residence and business parcel in the six counties then comprising the solid waste district.

The ruling approved the recommendation of a receiver appointed by Judge Fox to find a way to pay the debt incurred to purchase the waste hauling operation and the local landfill.

In a letter to the solid waste board last week, obtained by KTLO, Classic Hits and The Boot news, the district’s attorney, John Verkamp, says a number of things need to be ironed out following last Monday’s hearing in Pulaski County.

Verkamp says, “The gist of the ruling is that the $18 fee will be terminated immediately. Any fees being collected for this year will remain with the collectors to be refunded to the taxpayers. The distribution of the fees collected in the previous years will need to be determined.”

Verkamp goes on to say in the letter Judge Fox ordered the court appointed receiver to stop the defense of the fee and the appeal of the five circuit court rulings.

The circuit court rulings Verkamp 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.

In the letter to the board Verkamp goes on to say while some of this may seem favorable to the district and the citizens in the six counties, this leaves the district with a number of issues to grapple with.

In the letter Verkamp goes on to say the district’s legal costs and ramifications of Judge Fox’s ruling will be discussed at Monday’s meeting.

Online court documents filed Friday indicate Judge 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.

This latest development follows the first step taken by the legislature earlier this year towards relief from the debt incurred in the purchase of the waste hauling operation and the landfill.

As KTLO, Classic Hits and The Boot news reported in May, Senator Bob Ballinger of Berryville, working with local Senators Scott Flippo and Missy Irvin, sponsored special language in a bill giving legislative approval to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality to forgive collection of the costs incurred in the closure of the local landfill. The landfill closure costs were part of the calculations used in arriving at the $18 annual assessment fee.

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