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The Little Rock Water Reclamation Authority is working on a tentative agreement to pay a drainage improvement district for the upkeep of a levee and pumps that protect its Adams Field Wastewater Treatment Facility, which serves 70 percent of the city.

If the agreement uses the methodology the Little Rock Municipal Airport Commission adopted earlier this week in calculating the $77,901 it has tentatively agree to to pay Pulaski Drainage No. 2 Improvement District, the authority would pay $22,046 this year.

The treatment facility, which has been in operation since 1961 and is rated to handle 36 million gallons of sewage per day, is behind a 7.2-mile long levee.

It is the same levee providing some flood protection to the adjoining industrial and residential areas as well as Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field in an area east of Interstate 30 and along the Arkansas River.

Any agreement with the drainage improvement district won't be final until it is approved by the authority's governing commission, said Jean Block, the authority's chief legal officer.

"We are still working with the levee district on the language of the memorandum of understanding," Block said in an email. "Assuming we reach an agreement we will bring it to our commission for consideration."

Block's comments came after the airport commission voted to make a voluntary annual payment to the drainage district after the Federal Aviation Administration said such payments could be made in limited circumstances. The arrangement will be forwarded to the FAA for review, airport officials said.

The drainage improvement district, struggling to generate enough money to maintain the levee and its aging pumps, has sought some payment from the airport, which has gobbled up the surrounding land and is within the district.

The airport has said that it is exempt from paying taxes as a governmental agency. The district and its lawyer disagree.

In the past, Clinton National officials also have asserted that FAA regulations limit their ability to spend money on anything beyond capital and operating costs.

But they also said they wanted to find a way to help the levee district and, earlier this year, asked the FAA for guidance.

Officials with the airport and the district have met several times over the past year, spurred in part by an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article last May outlining the levee district's struggles.

The FAA, in an April 16 letter, said the airport could make payments to the district if the airport could show a direct benefit from the district.

The federal agency also said the payments could only be made on a "going forward" basis beginning Jan. 1 and any methodology used to determine the amount must be nondiscriminatory and identical to that being used to charge other ratepayers.

Airport officials came up with the $77,901 figure to pay the levee district based on the insured value of airport property as of September 2017, reasoning that flood insurance is available to the airport because the levee that protects the airport is federally certified.

The district levies a fee on landowners' property tax assessments, and that revenue pays for the operation and maintenance of the levee and pumps. Its annual fee was increased to 2.3 mills in December 2016.

Property is taxed on 20 percent of its value. The assessed value of a $100,000 home is $20,000. A mill is one-tenth of a cent, or $1 for each $1,000 of assessed value, so 2.3 mills levied on a $100,000 property would be $46 annually. Most properties in the area are valued much lower.

Larry Alman, a member of the drainage improvement district's commission, said Thursday that the commission was satisfied with how the airport came up with its payment, but said the commission would have to look elsewhere to meet its long-term capital needs.

"We mutually agree with the airport methodology..." he said in an email. "Wastewater is also on board and will be forwarding their assessment payment.

"The monies generated from these assessments will prop up annual budget obligations but we are still addressing the capital expected from future repairs [and] upgrades."

The drainage improvement district commission holds one meeting a year and has yet to schedule a meeting for 2018, he said.

Metro on 04/27/2018

Print Headline: LR utility studies deal to pay levee upkeep fee

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