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AAC F A M I L Y & F R I E N D S


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rains saturated Arkansas’ rivers and streams last spring, the flood waters rose to record levels, and the Black River crested at 28.95 feet, topping the Running Water levee. Tis year’s flood simply exceeded anyone’s expectations. Te problems facing levee districts in Arkansas are not limited to levee failure and lack of levee maintenance, the problem extends to the fact that no one in Arkansas knows how many levees or levee districts there are and where they may be located. It is virtually impossible to determine the exact number


of levees and levee districts in Arkansas. Levee districts can be created in a myriad of ways. Tey can be established by special legislative act, by authority granted to cities and counties in general laws, and by court order or private indi- viduals. Te patchwork nature of these laws makes it difficult to know when, where, and under what legal authority the levee district was formed. Over time, just like the Running Water levee district, the original members dispersed, retired, or passed away. However, unlike the Running Water levee district, most of the time the vacancies were never filled and, once disbanded, the districts were never re-formed. Records from these levee districts are likely packed away in boxes or filing cabinets, lost, or were never filed in the first place. Without anyone to maintain the levees, the levees themselves have become overgrown, been destroyed by animal burrow- ing, or been concealed by new construction development. Given the confusion surrounding how many levees there


are, it should come as no surprise that more than half of Arkansas’ levees have been rated “unacceptable” by USACE. People often do not realize the importance of levees and levee districts until they are desperate for help because their homes and farms are under water. Several major floods in recent years have contributed to a wave of new legislation designed to improve levee maintenance and levee district manage- ment. In fact, four bills have been passed since 2009 to establish a better system of safeguards for levee districts.


Levee District Reporting Requirements


Act 386 of 2009 requires levee districts to file reports with the county clerk. Te initial report must include the name of the district; the date it was formed; the legal authority under which it was formed; a description of the district and a map of its boundaries; a map of the parcels of property located within the district; the names, addresses, and terms of the board members; vacancies on the board; and future meeting dates and times. By December 31 every year after the initial reports have been filed, levee districts are required to file less-extensive reports updating information about the current board mem- bers, any board vacancies, and meeting information. Act 7 of the Tird Extraordinary Session of 2016 added that county clerks are required to forward all such levee dis- trict reports to the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission


COUNTY LINES, SUMMER 2017


(ANRC), which is responsible for managing and conserving the state’s water resources, including flood control.


Improvement District Reporting Requirements


Act 210 of 2011 created another set of reporting require- ments for levee districts. Whereas the 2009 act applied exclusively to levee districts, the 2011 act applies broadly to “all improvement or protection districts organized under Arkansas law that use the county collector for collection of ... assessments.” Te report must include a host of financial data, including the details of any contracts, outstanding indebtedness, and a statement of income and expenditures, and the report must be filed with the county clerk.


FOIA


Act 210 also made improvement districts explicitly subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Te provision adds “improvement district” to the list of agencies for which records are subject to disclosure to the public.


County Clerks’ Reporting Duties and Publishing Re- quirements RE: Vacancies


If there is a vacancy on a levee board, which should be in- dicated in the levee board’s annual reports, Act 386 and Act 7 require the county clerk to send notice to the members of the board and the county court. Te clerk must also publish notice of the vacancy in a newspaper of general circulation in the county and on a county-owned or affiliated website. If the report filed by the levee district indicates there has been a continuing vacancy, a position that remains open in consecutive reports, the county court has to hold a public hearing to fill the vacancy. Act 7 eliminated county clerks’ duty to send notice of levee


board vacancies to prosecuting attorneys, and in doing so, it also got rid of prosecuting attorneys’ role in investigating and filling vacancies. Instead, county clerks must now send notice of continuing


vacancies to county judges. County judges then determine the existence of the vacancy, conduct a public hearing, and enter a county order reflecting the majority vote of the land- owners to fill the vacancy. Te county judge may assess the district fines for any violations of these statutes and to recoup the costs of publishing the notices.


County Judges’ Procedures for Audits and Filling Va- cancies under Act 623


Tis year the legislature approved a bill that seeks to pro- vide an even greater number of safeguards for levee districts than previous legislation. Act 623 of 2017 gives mayors and county judges the authority to do something if the levee dis-


See “LEVEES” on Page 16 >>> 15


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