WALNUT RIDGE, Ark. – In a special meeting called by the Walnut Ridge Mayor on Monday, the council voted unanimously to pass a resolution to set money aside to refund the fire protection fee back to the residents of the town.
Mayor Charles Snapp told NEA Report it would have been difficult to set the money aside until next month, because of scheduling conflicts within the city, so he made the decision to move forward with it Monday in a special meeting.
An estimated $240,000 was set aside to be refunded to customers of Walnut Ridge city water for the past three years. The money was generated by a “fire protection fee,” which was determined by City Attorney Nancy Hall to likely not withstand a legal challenge, should one be presented.
It came to Hall’s attention following a Freedom of Information Act request from Mark Rees of Rees Law Firm in Jonesboro.
Once Snapp was made aware of the inappropriate wording in the ordinance, passed in 1987, he quickly made the choice to ask the council to repeal it and to begin the process of giving the fees back to the residents. However, he said the exact method of this was still being determined.
“There’s no case law that says how it has to be distributed so our plans are now that the money is set aside is to start notifying people on the water bill,” Snapp said.
Snapp said the water department would most likely be asked to determine what residents are owed based on their current and past water bills.
However, in a departure from what was indicated earlier in the month by Hall, Snapp said the refunds would be issued to residents without a request. He said if a resident decided, they could give the money back to the city to support the fire department but he felt issuing the refund first was the safest bet, from a legal perspective.
As of Tuesday, the money is a new line item on the administrative budget, Snapp said, and will be held in a separate checking account until refunds are sent out.