Barling Mayor: Annexation a ‘vague deal’ (Updated)

story by Ryan Saylor

Editor's note: Updated with comment from Fort Smith City Director Kevin Settle.

An annexation proposal from Vice Mayor Kevin Settle at the Fort Smith Board of Directors meeting on Tuesday (Feb. 5) may not go far due to prior agreements regarding growth between the cities of Fort Smith and Barling.

Settle announced his idea for annexation near the end of the board's regularly scheduled meeting, explaining that the annexation would allow for alcohol sales in an area hungry for growth.

"By a two-thirds vote they passed a liquor law allowing Barling to grow and prosper, but that has stopped because of legal issues," Settle told board members Tuesday.

He said Barling residents already work, eat and shop in Fort Smith and an annexation would allow the residents to see growth in their community, even though the alcohol sales vote passed by voters in November is in litigation.

But according to Barling Mayor Jerry Barling, he was never approached about Settle's proposal to annex property surrounding the intersection of Arkansas Highway 22 and the future Interstate 49, which is under construction.

Barling said current agreements established more than a decade ago set boundaries that the cities of Barling and Fort Smith must abide by.

"I don't understand what they're doing," he said. "It's such a vague deal."

Jeff Dingman, Fort Smith's deputy city administrator, confirmed Barling's assertion that both cities had previously-established boundaries.

"Several years ago, when all of the property at Fort Chaffee was being delineated, there was an agreement about where the city lines would be," Dingman said.

He said Settle did not make city leaders aware of his proposal prior to the meeting.

Should Settle's proposal move forward, Dingman said annexation would still be a long way off.

"Ray (Gosack) and I talked about it a little this morning, but there's a lot of footwork to do to even get started down that direction and mainly it would be a discussion with the city of Barling," he said. "I don't know that there's interest on Barling's side."

Mayor Barling did not seem to excited about the prospect of annexation of the land around Highway 22 and I-49.

"I don't know what they're talking about, I haven't talked to Kevin, the mayor or anybody up there," he said.

UPDATE: In response to Barling Mayor Jerry Barling's assertion that he did not understand what Fort Smith Vice Mayor Kevin Settle was doing by proposing a possible annex of property east of Barling, Settle said he was simply trying to provide a solution that would allow for development of land located at the Highway 22/I-49 intersection.

"I didn't speak out of turn," he said.

Settle said he was aware of the agreement both cities had made regarding establishing clear boundaries, as well.

"I knew about that agreement," he said. "I was trying to give Barling another option to consider."

Now that Settle's idea has been made public, he said it is up to Barling city leaders on whether to proceed with exploring a possible annexation.

"If they don't want to, I fully understand. It would be something that would take some discussions between the city administrations," Settle explained.