Com­mit­tee ap­proves spe­cial elec­tion, Coun­cil OK still needed

The Saline Courier - - FRONT PAGE - By Dana Guthrie [email protected]­ton­

The Ben­ton City Coun­cil Com­mu­nity Ser­vices Com­mit­tee ap­proved a num­ber of items Tues­day re­gard­ing Ben­ton Util­i­ties, in­clud­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of call­ing a spe­cial elec­tion for March.

Ben­ton Util­i­ties is in­ter­ested in ser­vic­ing an area lo­cated north of In­ter­state 30 (near Exit 114), but the area is cur­rently be­ing ser­viced by En­tergy Arkansas. The al­der­men ap­proved an or­di­nance that al­lows for the hold­ing of a spe­cial elec­tion in March 2020, ask­ing vot­ers if they are for or against ac­quir­ing En­tergy’s prop­erty.

In 2008, the Ben­ton City Coun­cil an­nexed a large land par­cel near Exit 114.

Ac­cord­ing to Ben­ton Util­i­ties of­fi­cials, the Arkansas Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion cre­ates maps that de­fine ser­vice ar­eas of non­mu­nic­i­pal elec­tric util­i­ties. The Exit

114 prop­erty was split be­tween En­tergy and First Elec­tric Co­op­er­a­tive.

Ac­cord­ing to Ben­ton Util­i­ties, at the time of an­nex­a­tion, the prop­erty was un­der­de­vel­oped and there were no cus­tomers, dis­tri­bu­tion prop­er­ties or fa­cil­i­ties to pur­chase. Ben­ton Util­i­ties con­tacted both com­pa­nies which, at that time, agreed that noth­ing ex­isted to be pur­chased and that Ben­ton Util­i­ties would serve the area.

Ben­ton Util­i­ties of­fi­cials claim now that the area is poised for sig­nif­i­cant devel­op­ment, En­tergy ar­gues that Ben­ton Util­i­ties has no right to serve the prop­erty.

The Sa­line County Ca­reer Tech­ni­cal Cam­pus is cur­rently un­der con­struc­tion at this lo­ca­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to Ja­son Carter, a lawyer with the Carter Law Firm who is rep­re­sent­ing Ben­ton Util­i­ties in the mat­ter, En­tergy claims that the in­di­vid­ual who told Ben­ton Util­i­ties they had the right to ser­vice the area, did so with­out proper au­tho­riza­tion.

“We got no­ti­fied by En­tergy that they in­tended to serve the ter­ri­tory,” Carter said. “Ap­par­ently, rep­re­sen­ta­tions that were made in the past that they would not serve the ter­ri­tory were unauthoriz­ed.”

Carter said that First Elec­tric Co­op­er­a­tive in­tends to honor the com­mit­ment they pre­vi­ously made.

Arkansas law pro­vides for a num­ber of meth­ods to re­solve ser­vice ter­ri­tory is­sues in­clud­ing the fil­ing of law­suits, but Carter and Ben­ton Util­i­ties are con­cerned about that be­ing the proper course of ac­tion

“That can take time,” Carter said. “The ap­peal that would go through the Arkansas State Supreme Court process would slow devel­op­ment. We’ve got peo­ple who are try­ing to de­velop prop­erty and get things rolling and we don’t know which util­ity would serve them. That could

re­ally hold up the bus.”

An­other so­lu­tion is the process which the com­mit­tee ap­proved that in­cludes the spe­cial elec­tion.

Carter says that the elec­tion may not be needed as ne­go­ti­a­tions are on­go­ing be­tween the two com­pa­nies and the or­di­nances and res­o­lu­tions per­tain­ing to the mat­ter will only be used if a pur­chase agree­ment can­not be achieved.

The com­mit­tee also

ap­proved an or­di­nance and res­o­lu­tion re­lated to ac­quir­ing the prop­erty. The or­di­nance, which would only go into af­fect if the re­sults of the pro­posed spe­cial elec­tion show a ma­jor­ity of vot­ers ap­prove the ac­qui­si­tion, states that Ben­ton Util­i­ties has “at­tempted in good faith to ne­go­ti­ate for the ac­qui­si­tion of cus­tomers and prop­erty that would be bet­ter served by BPUC than En­tergy, Arkansas, LLC, but have been un­able to reach agree­ment”.

The res­o­lu­tion re­quires En­tergy to fur­nish the city with in­for­ma­tion re­lated to a num­ber

of items in­clud­ing re­ports, rates, clas­si­fi­ca­tions, rules ap­pli­ca­ble to elec­tric util­ity ser­vices to the area in ques­tion. It also di­rects En­tergy to sup­ply the city with all books, records and other in­for­ma­tion per­tain­ing to the busi­ness of En­tergy in the area in ques­tion, along with a ver­i­fied, item­ized and de­tailed in­ven­tory and val­u­a­tion of all the prop­erty.

Ac­cord­ing to the res­o­lu­tion, if En­tergy does not com­ply, the city at­tor­ney will be au­tho­rized to in­state le­gal pro­ceed­ings.

There were no rep­re­sen­ta­tives for En­tergy Arkansas present at the com­mit­tee meet­ing.

Other items ap­proved from the agenda in­clude:

•A new right-of-way per­mit. •The amend­ment of Or­di­nance 66 of 2013 re­gard­ing sub­di­vi­sion rules and reg­u­la­tions.

The Ben­ton An­i­mal Con­trol Com­mit­tee also ap­proved an or­di­nance that will al­low for the keep­ing of chick­ens coops within the city lim­its pro­vided they are 50 ft. from a busi­ness or res­i­dence. The cur­rent or­di­nance states that the coops must be 100 ft. from a busi­ness or res­i­dence.

All items ap­proved dur­ing com­mit­tee meet­ings will still be re­quired to ob­tain ap­proval from the full city coun­cil dur­ing their reg­u­larly sched­uled monthly meet­ing.

All meet­ings are open to the pub­lic and at­ten­dance is en­cour­aged.

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