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AAC


COVER STORY LEVEES


half of those protected by the levees were not on the assess- ment rolls and thus were not contributing to their upkeep. In many other counties, increasing assessment rates is rarely politically popular. Given that many districts have not under- taken reassessments of betterments in many years and that still other districts are hamstrung by assessment rates capped at untenable levels, levee districts are left with insufficient reve- nues to improve the conditions of their levee(s). While certain agencies such as the ANRC offer loans at relatively low interest rates, such funding must of course be paid back eventually, which is a difficult task when district finances were unsustain- able in the first place. Te only other option — grants from state or federal government agencies — are rarely available and highly competitive. Consequently, the Task Force is conduct- ing research to determine exactly how much money it will take to bring all of Arkansas’ levee districts into compliance with Corps standards, as well as to identify best practices in obtain- ing such funding.


Remedial Legislation Problems such as those discussed above have existed well


before the Flood of 2019. A Summer 2017 County Lines article by former AAC law clerk Sarah Giammo detailed a wave of new legislation passed between 2009 and 2017 that was aimed at improving levee maintenance and levee district management. Act 386 of 2009, sponsored by former State Sen. Robert Tompson, established reporting requirements for levee dis- tricts that mandated transmission to the county clerk certain integral details such as a district’s name and legal authority; a legal description and a map of the district and its parcels; and information regarding the district’s board of directors. Espe- cially important with respect to district boards is whether any vacancies currently exist thereon. Act 7 of the Tird Extraordinary Session of 2016, sponsored


by State Sen. Jason Rapert and State Rep. Rick Beck, followed up on these reporting requirements by mandating that such reports be forwarded by the county clerk to the ANRC. Acts 386 and 7 each require that county clerks notify the


board of directors, if any, of a district with board vacancies, as well as the county court. Moreover, the county clerk must also publish notice of the vacancy in a newspaper of regular circulation in the county or counties affected, as well as on a county-affiliated website, if one exists. If vacancies persist in multiple successive reports, a public hearing must be held by the county court for the purpose of filling the vacancy. Act 210 of 2011, sponsored by State Sen. Jane English, then a


state representative, and former State Sen. David Burnett, estab- lished another set of reporting requirements, this time focused more intently on the financial data of districts, requiring informa-


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tion such as any current contracts, indebtedness, total income, and total expenditures. Tis report, too, must be filed with the county clerk. Importantly, this act applied only to districts that use the county collector to collect assessments, though such is the case for the majority of levee districts. Tis act also made districts subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Act 623 of 2017, sponsored by State Rep. Lanny Fite and


State Sen. Jimmy Hickey, Jr., provided another way for county judges to act upon finding that a district is defunct or other- wise operating in an improper way. Here, however, action is contingent upon the public in a district taking action. First, a member or members of the public must successfully make a FOIA request regarding a particular district. If what is yielded by such a request is substantially insufficient in that it does not provide adequate financial or operational information, then not less than 10 percent of the members of the district may petition the county court to direct that the district comply more substantially with the FOIA request. If within 30 days the district does not or cannot comply, the county judge may order an audit of the district on his or her own volition. Act 623 also provided additional methods by which to fill


board vacancies. In one method, a county judge may appoint a new board member upon petition of the district’s property owners. By the other method, a county judge may simply ap- point replacement members on his or her own accord. Simi- larly, if a district’s board is entirely vacant and no property owners wish to serve on said board, a county judge must ap- point an administrator to act as a substitute for the board until interested property owners come forth to take control.


Room for Improvement While the foregoing legislation has laid a framework for al-


lowing levee and drainage districts to reconstitute and become fiscally viable, there still is room for improvement. Indeed, some ideas considered by the Task Force include combining or streamlining the reporting requirements laid out by Acts 386, 7, and 210. Importantly, it is desirable that the financial data reports required by Act 210 should also be forwarded to the ANRC such that the agency has a more complete picture, not only of a district’s organizational structure and territory, but also its financial status. Tis knowledge could allow ANRC to prioritize funding opportunities in a more efficacious manner, especially if the agency were to attain higher levels of over- sight regarding levee operation, as discussed below. Such an improvement could also be affected by amending the laws contained within Act 386, the reports from which are already forwarded to ANRC, to mandate financial reporting in addi- tion to the information already required. Notably, Act 708 of 2019, sponsored by State Rep. Jasen Kelly and State Sen. Jane English, was signed into law just


COUNTY LINES, FALL 2019


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