Friday, July 22, 2016

TOP STORY >> City will appeal water ruling

Leader staff writer

“It looks like we may be going to court now,” said Jim Peacock, chairman of the Jacksonville Water Com-mission after a state commission ruled against the city Wednesday.

City Administrator Jim Durham confirmed Friday Jacksonville will challenge the ruling in Pulaski County Circuit Court.

The Arkansas Natural Resources Commission up-held its director’s decision against Jacksonville in a property dispute between the city and Sherwood.

Peacock said, “From the beginning our city attorney thought we had a good court case and also figured the commission would not go against its director.”

At issue is about 2,600 acres of undeveloped land in Sherwood but is part of Jacksonville’s water service area. Jacksonville has promised to provide water to the area when it is developed as long as the land is annexed into Jacksonville.

The property is on the western and northwestern boundaries of Jacksonville, near the city’s newest water tank, which cost about $3 million. A large portion is in Gravel Ridge, which had been annexed into Sherwood.

Sherwood wanted the commission to place the acreage in Sherwood’s water service area after the city annexed it in 2008.

Sherwood officials made the request in June 2015 so that water service could be provided to the area without it having to get re-annexed into Jacksonville.

Attorney Roger Fitzgibbon, representing Sherwood, said Jacksonville was “strong-arming” outsiders to become part of Jacksonville and increasing the city’s tax base.

Jacksonville City Attorney Robert Bamburg said the city established the service area 20 years ago and was in place and was meant to foster growth.

Fitzgibbon told the commission that Jacksonville could keep its infrastructure, including a water tower constructed in Sherwood, and collect revenue.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher had previously said that the law is on Jacksonville’s side, laws aimed at preventing cities from annexing to gain population and, as a result, more turnback revenue without providing services to the annexed area.

He explained how the territory boundaries had been approved several times by different entities, going back to 1998.

Central Arkansas Water, Sherwood, Jacksonville, Cabot and Mid-Arkansas Utilities approved them in 2009.

“We’ve planned that area for growth area for decades as well, and made investments with infrastructure that has been financed with loans through ANRC, backed by rate increases bore by the Jacksonville ratepayers,” the mayor continued.

Central Arkansas Water has contracts with both cities and would be the ultimate water provider regardless whose service area the acreage ends up in.