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AAC


prior to the Flood of 2019 and built upon Act 210 by es- tablishing further requirements for levee districts. Tis act re- quires retention of all financial records, bank statements, and contracts relating to any evidence of indebtedness undertaken by a district during its existence and for five years following its dissolution. Te Act further provides that these financial re- cords are subject to FOIA. Moreover, under Act 708, any state agency or commission may choose to be excluded from any newly formed district for the purposes of assessments. Lastly, the act requires the Department of Health to promulgate rules establishing minimum standards for water and sewer improve- ments made by districts under the pertinent subchapter. While this legislation was not passed with extreme flooding in mind, it may nonetheless be seen as a step in the right direction with respect to determining the financial state of our districts and improving our districts in a safe and effective manner. Moreover, the Task Force has discussed amending Arkansas law to give ANRC actual administrative authority over levee districts. Currently, the agency is prohibited from acting in such a supervisory role and does not have rulemaking power with respect to levee or drainage districts. Allowing ANRC to take on such a role could greatly assist in providing a more uniform and efficient way to operate the many levees across our state. Moreover, some level of ANRC authority might ensure greater compliance with best practices and safety standards going for- ward, ameliorating the risk of severe damage from future flood- ing events. Te aim of the Task Force in its final report will be to make informative recommendations regarding these and other areas of concern, such that the Arkansas General Assem- bly might consider curative legislation going forward. Another method by which to assist those levee districts that


are underfunded, semi-operational, or defunct is through district consolidation or merger. At times, it may be the case that county leaders, boards of directors, or affected landown- ers wish to consolidate multiple contiguous levee districts into one, combining the territory and resources of the once sepa- rate districts such that operations will become more efficient, assessment revenue will increase due to a larger tax base, and future district viability will be enhanced. All of this could serve to allow once struggling districts to reorganize and operate as a whole for the better protection of the lands, individuals, and businesses in any given area. Depending upon the facts of each scenario and the statutes


under which any given districts were formed, the process of consolidation can be remarkably complex. For instance, while there is a statutory method for consolidating districts between two or more counties, there is no such provision explicitly pro- viding a method for consolidating two or more districts within the same county. Tis issue, as with many matters involving levee districts, would benefit from legislative clarification and amendment. Indeed, the Task Force, in conjunction with AAC legal staff, has reviewed the legal methods for consoli- dation and found that the process needs to be made simpler,


COUNTY LINES, FALL 2019


COVER STORY


more widely applicable regardless of organizational statutes, and more clearly defined.


A Successful Case Study at the County Level One example of a successful consolidation occurred in


September 2019 in Conway and Pope counties. Tere, three contiguous but legally separate districts from within the same levee system were combined to form one district. According to Conway County Judge Jimmy Hart, “it [didn’t] make sense to have three levee districts on one levee system, because if one breaches in Conway County then it will affect Pope, and if it breaches in Pope then it will affect Conway.” Consequently, the boards of each levee district, as well as Judge Hart and Pope County Judge Ben Cross, agreed that consolidation was in the best interest of everyone involved, including area land- owners. Each county court therefore issued orders establishing a single consolidated levee district in accordance with relevant Arkansas law. Prospectively, this process can be replicated else- where across the state on a case-by-case basis through coopera- tion between county officials and the AAC. Further legislation — informed by the Task Force’s final report, as well as experi- ences at the local level — may provide even more efficient ways to effect consolidation. In turn, the quality of Arkansas’ levees and the safety of Arkansans throughout the state will be significantly enhanced.


Final Observations Above all, it is clear that while there have been quite a few


improvements in the areas of levee law and levee operation, there remains considerable work to be done. Fortunately, we may expect the final report from the Arkansas Levee Task Force to be highly instructive with respect to how we can con- tinue progressing forward on these issues for a safer Arkansas. What we know already, however, is that looking to the recom- mendations given and actions taken by officials at the county level thus far can teach us about the practical effects and diffi- culties of proposals in a real-world setting. Counties that wish to learn more about the process of levee district consolidation — or those that have other questions with respect to levees in general — are encouraged to contact the AAC for assistance. While there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to levee law, co- operative efforts can go far in achieving the results desired by those parties interested.


Sources


2009 Ark. Acts 386. 2011 Ark. Acts 210. 2016 Ark. Acts 7. 2017 Ark. Acts 623.


See “LEVEES” on Page 28 >>> 27


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