« PreviousContinue »
and show cause why the assessment so made should not be confirmed.
Were this the law, we could give notice to the land owners in the drainage district now being organized in Mississippi County, involving about 250,000 acres of land at a cost of twenty-five or thirty dollars, but under the present law it will cost between $1500 or $2000 to give the notice.
There is still another good and valid reason why this provision of the law should be changed. The drainage law provides that the clerk shall extend the drainage assessment upon the tax books and the drainage assessment shall be collected by the tax collector. Lands are not assessed for State and county taxes in forty acre tracts, but if the owner happens to own a whole section, it is assessed in a whole section. If a half section, then it is assessed in a tract of a half section. In other words, all that any one land-owner may own in a section is assessed in a body, so when the drainage law requires the assessment to be made in forty acre tracts and then provides that it shall be extended on the tax books and collected by the collector, you see at once that it is impracticable. The assessment for a section of land for State and county taxes will take up one line of space only, but for drainage taxes it would take up sixteen lines, and this alone demonstrates the folly of requiring the assessments to be made in forty acre tracts, or less.
COLLECTION OF ASSESSMENTS.
Men who clip coupons from drainage bonds and receive the interest thereon are usually gentlemen of leisure whose greatest exertion consists in riding in automobiles, touring Europe, devouring costly dinners and flirting with women. They do not want to be worried about the collection of the annual interest and before they buy the bonds, their attorney must approve every step in the organization of the district and even then they will not touch the bonds unless they are convinced that the ditch, when constructed, will be a success and drain the land, that the land owners are friendly toward the construction of the ditch and willing to pay their assessments, and that every official required to perform any duty in connection with the ditch will perform that duty cheerfully, willingly and promptly. They do not want to buy a bad lawsuit, they do not want to buy a good lawsuit, but they want to know there will be no lawsuits either good or bad. For this very reason the drainage law should contain a more rigid requirement as to the duty of the collector in collecting the assessments.
The law now requires that the collector shall collect the drainage assessments as State and county taxes are collected which clearly means that such assessments must be collected at the same time State and county taxes are collected. It so happens that the time for collecting State and county taxes in Arkansas is about the time that political campaigns are the hottest. The collector, if not on the verge of the grave, is always a candidate for re-election, and I know personally of one instance in which the collector absolutely refused to collect or receive drainage assessments until after the primary election in March. Whether he was playing politics among the land owners with the drainage assessment is immaterial—the point is that he was not doing his duty. If he had a right to refuse to collect assessments until after the primary election in March, he might also refuse to collect them for all time to come. - This would result in a default in the payment of the annual interest and one default in the payment of annual interest will render the sale of drainage bonds subsequently issued in that county impossible wherever such default is known, and such news, like all bad news, travels fast among bond buyers.
A bond buyer told me of one instance in the State of Missouri where a default for only a few days in the payment of the first annual installment of interest by a drainage district had given every drainage district in the county a "black eye” in the bond market and it was with the greatest difficulty thereafter to induce any bond buyer to consider for a moment the purchase of drainage bonds issued in that county. I understand some counties in this State have probably had the same trouble. This difficulty could be easily prevented by making it unlawful for the collector to receive State and county taxes, without, at the same time, collecting the drainage assessment levied upon the land, and prescribing a heavy penalty for its violation by the collector. The more certain it can be made to appear that there will be no default in the payment of the interest the more popular our drainage bonds will become in the bond market. Indeed, if the constitution were so amended as to provide for the registration and countersigning of drainage bonds by the State Treas urer and place the State Treasurer behind our drainage organizations, it would be a quick solution of the drainage problem in this State.
Where six per cent drainage bonds now go begging in the market, four percent drainage bonds would be readily taken if backed by the State Treasury. The State of Ohio has such a provision in her drainage law, concerning which one bond buyer told me that a four per cent drainage bond issued in Ohio would sell more readily than a six per cent Arkansas or Mississippi drainage bond. Of course, this cannot be done under our present constitution, but I cite this fact as an evidence of the truth of what is said above,—that the more certain you make it appear that the annual interest on your drainage bonds will be paid promptly the more readily the bonds will sell.
PUBLIC SENTIMENT AND DRAINAGE. Public sentiment in favor of drainage develops slowly until the moss-backs are drowned, then it develops very rapidly. If you undertake to organize a drainage district in a community where they have not been almost drowned, you will find from the testimony of the land owners that the country is full of ridges. The fellow who has a high ridge between his land and the ditch and cannot see how his land can be benefitted is always willing for the ditch to be organized "for the benefit of his neighbor" if they will pay the freight, but many of his neighbors are also behind a ridge and when you get into court you are confronted by a mob.
I remember in one instance, when I was trying to put through the organization of a drainage canal at the instance of some enterprising people, one individual who owned about forty acres of land insisted that the ditch would not benefit his land at all although it ran right by the side of it, and when he was asked if it would not take the water out of the public road leading to his land, his answer was: “My daddy traveled that road thirty years ago, and if it was good enough for Paw it is good enough for me." These are the people whom the wheels of progress must run over. Nothing short of baptism makes a believer of that kind of a fellow. All the civil engineers in the United States, combined with the experience of land-owners in the north and south in favor of drainage, passes unheeded by him. To him there is no wisdom in it and he will continue to oppose drainage until he is almost drowned.
A few years ago I was trying to put through the organization of a public ditch at the instance of some enterprising landowners in the north end of my county, and about twenty-five small land-owners, led by one of some influence, came down to oppose it. Some of them had been drinking more of the essence of corn than of water and a stormy time ensued in the County Court. It was election year and I think they had the most votes, -anyway, they killed the ditch. Soon thereafter a number of ditches just north of Mississippi County were opened up in Missouri which turned loose a deluge of water on the very territory that would have been relieved by the organization of the ditch mentioned. The lands were flooded, crops were drowned out, and the same individuals who had so mercilessly routed me a year or two ago headed the petition to organize a public ditch for their relief. They were made believers only by this baptism in the holy waters of Missouri.
The drainage of low lands is a question to which too much time and thought cannot be devoted by the people of Arkansas. We have millions of acres of land that is of practically no value until it is drained and which, after drainage, will be as fertile and productive as the valley of the Nile. Indeed, drainage is our salvation, and with some slight changes in our law and public sentiment worked up to the right point, the country will be drained and then the low lands of Arkansas which are now a fit habitation for chills and fever and reptiles will become the garden spot of the world.
Enterprising people who appreciate the importance of drainage should not only look after the much needed amendments to the drainage law, but they should look after its enforcement, and jealously guard the honor of every drainage district by electing men to the office of collector who are friendly toward drainage improvement, and collect the assessments, and meet the annual installments of interest promptly, without which we will have no standing in the bond market.
The drainage question is rapidly becoming one of national interest, and it is interesting to note that Mr. Bryan, whom some of us dream of seeing in the White House, in one of his most recent utterances said:
"The same principle which is invoked in support of irrigation can be invoked in support of drainage. The question is not whether the water should be brought upon the land or taken off the land; it is whether the land shall be made tillable and its wealth producing qualities utilized. Drainage of the swamps is, therefore, as legitimate a work as the reclamation of arid wastes.”