Leader Blues

Friday, March 09, 2007

EDITORIALS>>Deltic should pay back taxes

The news that Central Arkansas Water and Deltic Timber Corp. are nearing an agreement for the utility to buy 700 acres of Deltic timberland on the slopes above its public water intake on Lake Maumelle leaves us with two impulses: cheering and crying.

Cheering because the development might insure the purity of our drinking water for another generation. Deltic planned to build luxury estates on those slopes and the runoff would pollute the water.

But at what price? They are talking about buying the 700 acres from the big developer for $8.2 million. That is $11,714 an acre! That is some fancy price for water users to pay to protect their water from only one developer at only one source. The land might actually be worth that on the open market if a regionís water supply were not at stake. But the land is worth that only because the public utility happened to build a lake there for a public water supply and turn the rocky slopes from scrubby timberland into a scenic paradise. Otherwise the land would be worth $120 to $150 an acre rather than $11,714.

In fact, about $120, not $11,714, is what the company has said for years was the landís worth when it assessed the property for school taxes. It pays perhaps 40 cents an acre a year in taxes. How does that compare to the taxes you pay on your little lot and home? Amendment 59 to the state Constitution allows that huge inequality.

If Central Arkansas Water accepts the settlement and avoids a trial over the condemnation value of the land, it should at least insist on this: The company should be required to pay to the county collector for distribution to Pulaski County schools a delinquent property tax for each of the past 20 years based on a value of $11,714 an acre instead of $120 an acre. That might make the deal a trifle more palatable for taxpayers and water users.