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Hearing set for May in $18 fee suit

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LITTLE ROCK — A hearing has been scheduled to reach a disposition on money collected from commercial and residential property owners for 2017 and 2018 through the $18 fee to repay a debt from NABORS landfill.
Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Tim Fox issued an order Friday morning setting the hearing for May 10 to determine who should get more than $2 million deposited in the registry of the court.
What is now the Ozark Mountain Solid Waste District board voted in 2005 to buy the landfill and trash hauling service. Bonds were sold to complete that transaction, but the board eventually voted in 2012 to default on those bonds in what became a financial fiasco. Bank OZK, as trustee for bondholders, sued the district in Pulaski County Circuit Court to recover the debt incurred.
The $18 fee was part of the receivership granted to devise a plan for repaying bondholders. A fraction of proceeds from the fee would also go to the solid waste district to help defray costs of maintaining the landfill in northern Baxter County.
The $18 fee was collected on 2017 and 2018 property taxes in the six counties that comprised the solid waste district. Fayetteville lawyers Matt Bishop and Wendy Howerton sued the solid waste district on behalf of taxpayers in all six counties.
Circuit judges in Baxter, Carroll, Marion, Newton and Searcy counties ruled the fee to be an illegal exaction or tax, thus unconstitutional.
But the original lawsuit filed before Judge Fox against the solid waste district by Bank OZK was still open. Fox originally approved the receivership and the $18 fee.
Since that time, Fox has ruled that the fee would no longer be collected. However, funds collected for the first two years were deposited into the registry of the court pending a decision on how they should be distributed. Bondholders and the plaintiffs each say they deserve the money.
In November 2020, Bishop filed a letter with the court requesting a hearing to determine distribution.
In the order issued Friday, Fox set the hearing for 9 a.m. Monday, May 10, in Little Rock. The courthouse is still closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the order said, so only one attorney per client will be allowed to appear in person.

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