North Arkansas landfill fee meeting leaves questions still unanswered

HARRISON, Ark. - Property owners in North Arkansas' Ozark Mountain Solid Waste District now have to pay an $18 service fee on top of their property taxes.

Dennis Johnson, from Omaha, said, "If it doesn't stop here, where's it going to stop?"

The district's board is made up of mayors and county judges in Baxter, Boone, Carroll, Marion, Newton and Searcy Counties.

In 2005 the district issued $12 million in bonds to purchase a landfill in Baxter County.

Receiver Geoffrey Treece, the trustee for the bondholders, said, "The landfill was not a viable economic model. It was not generating sufficient revenue."

In 2012, the board voted to default on its bonds and close the landfill. The bondholders sued the district, and the district tried to file for bankruptcy, but a judge said not so fast.

Treece said, "The service fee has always been an option for this district, and the district never implemented it. And the judge in dismissing the bankruptcy case basically found bad faith on the part of the district for not assessing the fee."

Now North Arkansan property owners have to pay $18 a year per parcel of land, to pay off close to $30 million for the bonds plus cleanup.

The service fee won't apply to properties like boat docks, billboards or cell towers.

The court order requires the fee be paid before any property taxes are paid.

Treece said, "The service fee is not a tax. It's not a trash tax. It's not an assessment. It does not require a vote of the people."

Terry Ahart, of Lead Hill, said, "The fact that they can take my house away if I don't pay it, certainly makes it a tax."

Many people say they came to the meeting to find out who the bondholders were, but that question was not answered.

"Citizens that are being required to make this $18-a-year payment are going to save people who made a poor investment in a landfill situation that they knew was going south," Johnson said.

Some are ready to take action.

Teresa Matthews, of Harrison, said, "Enough people to get together and pitch in to get Judge Fox's ruling overturned."

In total, it will take about 30 years for property owners to pay off the close-to $30 million dollars. There will be another meeting to answer questions about the $18 fee in Mountain Home scheduled for Tuesday.