Carroll County's new Public Facilities Board is a good idea. It is also destined to fail. Before we get into the whys of its probable future, let's look at some background:
Carroll County's Quorum Court agreed on a 9 to 1 vote to the formation of a Public Facilities Board (PFB) that will plan the expansion of water service throughout the County during the foreseeable future. There is an action underway by some residents to recall this vote and put it on the November ballot, but for the moment, the PFB is a fact of life and settled law. What does it mean?
During a September 11th appearance on The Ozark Harvest Radio Hour, JP Ron Flake--who was a major advocate for the PFB--was asked to provide information about what a PFB meant for you and me. Following is the information he provided. The interview was on the record and you can hold Flake to it, now and especially in the future:
If you live in the city limits of Green Forest, Berryville, Holiday Island, or Eureka Springs, it doesn't mean much at all; the PFB is primarily concerned with the delivery of rural water. At some point in the future, the water systems of each of these units of government may play an important role in the expansion of water to outlying areas because they will be the source of the water. The "Big Idea" is that rural water will spider web out of our town's and Holiday Island's water systems.
According to Flake: Your taxes will not go up because of the PFB; under no circumstances; period.
It is unlikely that your property will be affected because new water lines will run contiguous with existing utility lines. In some rare cases--for sub-stations, for example, small amounts of property will go through the eminent domain process, and a judge will determine a fair price for your property if you are unable to come to terms with the PFB.
Under NO circumstances--according to Flake--will you be required to tie into a PFB waterline. You are entirely free to refuse service if you wish. You can continue to use your own well and your well cannot be condemned by the PFB.
As a public citizen you may have the opportunity to choose who sits on the now 5 man PF Board--the same way you get to choose (ho ho) who sits on the Carroll Electric Cooperative Board. Otherwise and in virtual practice, PF Board Members are nominated by the Quorum Court Judge and approved or disapproved by the Quorum Court as a whole. If you don't like who sits on the PFB your only recourse is to vote out of office the County Judge and the JPs who cooperated or collaborated with the PFB candidate, depending on your view.
Opponents of the PFB most often raise the issue of cronyism; they say that Good Old Boys on the Court will appoint pals who will personally benefit by, in one case, directing waterline investments toward specific areas or properties owned by a PFB member or Best Friend or, in another case, have lied about all the current exemptions from forced participation, well condemnation, and etc., and will change the rules as quick as they can--again, to their financial advantage.
There is a distinct possibility that this might happen. Privately controlled "water boards", for example in Los Angeles, California and Boise, Idaho, were controlled in their early development stages by a few wealthy landowners and real estate developers who dictated where cities and towns could expand--to their advantage, of course. The great noir movie Chinatown was exactly about such an early water board. If you're worried about environmentalists controlling water it is worth looking at the history of privately held water boards if you really want something to worry about.
Another criticism is that the Quorum Court rushed to judgment and failed to adequately consider other forms of regulating and planning rural water expansion and that they failed to gather input from the usual suspects--that would be you and me. This argument is a good one, but it fails to respect the current and historical culture of our Quorum Court, which is to deliberate long and hard about how to beat a poor librarian out of a ten cent an hour raise, but to otherwise avoid any meaningful action beyond filling a pot hole or two. The net result of this culture of inaction is that Carroll County missed any possibility of stimulus money from Uncle Sugar--and was the last county in Arkansas to address the issue of rural water expansion. Once again the Quorum Court was a day late and a dollar short. This in itself is a rejection of the rush to judgment argument.
The main reason why the formation of a PFB is a good one is that an organized water authority is an essential, basic requirement for economic development, and for the expansion of work force opportunities for the people who live here. Businesses will not locate or relocate to areas where good and cheap access to water and other utilities isn't readily and reliably available. Whether a PFB, or some other water regulating structure such as a Rural Water Authority is the right way to go is an open question. But unless you're Jeremiah Johnson or Hugh Glass it seems obvious that Carroll County is way past due for such an authority. We need more good jobs and more businesses in Carroll County and a PFB is a step in that direction.
The main reason why the PFB will fail is because local government--town, city, and county--are too immature, too political, or too naive--to coordinate and plan an activity or opportunity that crosses township, town, and city limits. Advocates for the PFB agree that new rural water routes will "spider web" out from the water systems of our towns, but did anyone on the Quorum Court consult with governmental leadership in Eureka Springs, Berryville, Holiday Island, or Green Forest, about PFB plans? Is anyone from these essential units of government on the PF Board? Of course not. Why should the Quorum Court's right hand suddenly want to know what the left hand of town and city government is doing?
As I said at the beginning of this piece there is an effort to place this issue on the ballot in November or, failing that, to hold a special election to recall the PFB decision. Personally, I think it will be more instructive to find out if the PF Board operates in the best interests of all citizens--as do the majority of PFBs around the country--or if, as in the case of some privately held water authorities, it behaves in a borderline criminal manner. Then we'll know, once and for all, the true quality and character of the people who govern us. I am naive enough to think that they'll do an honest job and that, generally, we have honest people on the Court. But we'll see, won't we?