Proceeds from $18 assessment fee are topic for May 10 Pulaski County hearing

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The controversial $18 assessment that appeared on property tax bills for landowners in six north Arkansas counties beginning in 2018 is no longer being collected, but the legal battle isnít over.

More than $2 million was collected from landowners in Carroll, Baxter, Boone, Marion, Newton and Searcy counties in 2018 and 2019 before a series of class-action lawsuits filed by Fayetteville attorneys Matt Bishop and Wendy Howerton resulted in judges declaring the fee illegal.

A hearing is scheduled Monday, May 10, in Pulaski County Circuit Court to determine what should happen with the money that was collected. The courthouse remains closed to the public because of COVID-19 protocols and only one attorney per client will be allowed inside the courtroom.

The $18 annual fee was intended to repay bondholders who purchased $12,340,000 in bonds issued by the Ozark Mountain Solid Waste District in October 2005 to finance the purchase of the North Arkansas Board of Regional Sanitation (NABORS) Landfill in Baxter County. The assessment also was intended to repay the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) for up to $16.5 million in costs related to closing and cleaning up the landfill.

The solid waste district included all six counties where the fee was assessed before Carroll County withdrew to form its own solid waste district in 2020.

The $18 fee was collected under an order from Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox, who presided over a case in which Bank of the Ozarks (now Bank OZK), acting as a trustee for the bondholders, sued the solid waste district.

Foxís order followed the recommendation of Geoffrey Treece, a Little Rock attorney whom the judge appointed to serve as a receiver for the solid waste district. Fox discharged Treece from the case in October 2020.

After the taxpayers prevailed in the lawsuits filed by Bishop and Howerton, Fox rescinded the fee in a ruling last August and ordered that the money already collected be held in the court registry pending a ruling on whether it should be returned to the taxpayers or distributed to the bondholders.

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