Editorial - Proposed water ordinance flawed

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The ordinance to create a water facilities board is probably one of the most important pieces of legislation the Quorum Court may ever pass. Future generations of Carroll County residents will certainly judge us by what we have created.

The latest proposed ordinance is 90 percent verbatim from Arkansas State Law, " Public Facilities Boards Act", 14-137-101. Voters should ask, why pass an ordinance with verbiage that is already 90 percent Arkansas law? Most of the remaining 10 percent of the proposed ordinance that is not already Arkansas law directly conflicts with other portions of the "Public Facilities Boards Act" and therefore is contrary to Arkansas law. Why would the Quorum Court want to pass an ordinance that is in direct conflict with Arkansas law?

This ordinance would give a Public Facilities Board enormous powers and would impact life in Carroll County from now on, yet the Quorum Court is approaching this ordinance in a hurried and slip-shod manner. We began by copying Madison County's ordinance, which is full of mistakes. Next we passed a version at our last Quorum Court meeting, still full of mistakes. In this latest proposed version of the ordinance, there are several statements that are in direct conflict with the Public Utilities Act 14-134-101.

Once created, this board will be powerful and answerable to no one.

14.137.104C ... except as otherwise expressly provided in this chapter, none of the powers granted to a board under the provisions of this chapter shall be subject to the supervision or regulation or require the approval or consent of the state, or of any municipality, county, or political subdivision of the state, or of any commission, board, body, bureau, official, or agency of the state or any municipality, county, or political subdivision.

Our only chance to otherwise limit the powers of a Public Facilities Board is by creating a well thought-out ordinance. Yet we are not doing so in effective ways.

The latest proposed ordinance also contains no finding that such a Public Facilities Board is needed throughout Carroll County, or that it is in the best interests of the majority of county residents. Conversely, if there is no finding for the need and no one is compelled to join the Carroll County Water Facilities Board, who would this Public Utilities Board benefit? In plain English, land developers. Developers would no longer have to build their own water distribution system. The "board" would build future water distribution systems that are publicly funded.

If the Quorum Court has reason to believe the county truly needs a county-wide Public Water Facilities authority, then an ordinance should be written clearly identifying the need, citing the authority available to the county. There is no need to repeat any of the Arkansas law in the ordinance, except where specific options are offered by state law.

If we are earnest in honoring the people's wishes, to always be answerable to the public, the prohibitions on condemning wells and compelling membership, this needs to be expressed in strong, clear language.

Please remember ACA 14-14-801(a) as provided by Arkansas Constitution, Amendment 55, Section 1, Part (a), a County government, acting through its County Quorum Court, may exercise local legislative authority not expressly prohibited by Arkansas Constitution or by law for the affairs of the County.

In other words, we can not write legislation that takes powers away from other elected officials that was granted to them by state law, nor can we change state law. Some of what is questionable about the latest proposed version of the ordinance is:

Ordinance Section 2. Membership of the Board: (A) "Members are required to be residents of Carroll County."

14-137-108. Board members. (3) (ii) Members are not required to be residents of the municipality or county that has created the public facilities board.

Ordinance Section 2. Membership of the Board: (B) "Any person so appointed will be subject to confirmation by the Quorum Court."

14-137-106. Creation-Purpose. (2) Public facilities boards created under this chapter are not administrative boards under the County Government Code 14-14-101 et seq. (thus, Quorum Court approval is not required).

Ordinance Section 3. Organization of the Board: "The Board may also appoint an Executive Director who may be a member of the Board and receive no compensation for their service."

14-137-109. Officers-Executive director. (b) The board may also appoint an executive director who shall serve at the pleasure of the board and receive such compensation as shall be fixed by the board.

Ordinance Section 5. Additional Authority of the Board: (d) "To fix, charge, and collect rates, fees, interest, and charges for the use of any waterworks facilities and the supplying of water;"

Whose waterworks facilities and water supply would this apply to, Carroll-Boone, private community systems, etc.?

Ordinance Section 11. Automatic Amendment: "To accomplish the specific public facilities objectives set forth above, the Board shall have additional authority and power as may, from time to time hereafter be authorized for Public Facilities Boards by amendments to the Acts without additional action by this Quorum Court."

This would imply that the Board has the authority to change the rules of the game later on without having to come to the Quorum Court or anyone else.

Regarding this proposed ordinance, aside from being poorly worded, I feel this ordinance is being strongly advocated by a person or persons who have interests in the existing Carroll Rural Water Association, and may have a strong financial interest in the development of a publicly funded rural water distribution system to service a privately developed subdivision.

Clean drinking water is essential to all human and other life forms. I have long been an advocate for clean drinking water and finding a way to provide clean drinking water to all residents of Carroll County. Again I ask all of you to contact your J.P. and tell them this deeply flawed ordinance needs to be allowed to die. We need to hold public meetings, find out the needs of the rural areas, and who would be best serviced by a Public Works Department or a Public Facilities Board.

A copy of the latest proposed Ordinance is available at the County Clerk's office.