story by Ryan Saylor
Planning for the eventual retirement of Fort Smith's director of finance has already begun with the announcement Tuesday (July 29) of the city's new number two in the finance department.
In a press release, City Administrator Ray Gosack announced that Jennifer Humphrey had been hired as the city's deputy director of finance "following a national search." Humphrey, who holds a bachelors degree in public accounting from Harding University in Searcy, previously worked at Winrock International and Wal-Mart, as well as the director of finance for the city of Russellville.
The position she fills is a new position created as a result of the Fort Smith Board of Directors' desire to have a succession plan in place when Finance Director Kara Bushkuhl retires, though she has given no indication she plans to retire any time soon. Bushkuhl will have been the city's finance director for 34 years in October and said she was happy to see Humphrey joining her staff.
“Jennifer has developed and managed budgets. She has extensive experience in government accounting and understands Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) rules, and fund accounting principles," she said. "Jennifer has also demonstrated a commitment to the citizens of Arkansas. We’re happy to bring her to Fort Smith.”
Gosack praised Humphrey's private sector and public sector work and said her past experience in city government was the right fit for the finance department.
“Jennifer has an impressive resume. Her time with Walmart corporate headquarters demonstrates her ability to work in a high-profile environment," he said. "Her experience as finance director for the City of Russellville gives her a thorough understanding of governmental accounting professional standards. We’re pleased to welcome Jennifer Humphrey to our leadership team.”
And while it appears Bushkuhl will likely be around to deal with some of the financial pressures to come, Gosack said bringing Humphrey in at this time was the right move to make for the administration and the city as a whole.
“Kara is at work on her thirty-fourth City of Fort Smith budget. At some point, Kara will be ready to walk away from the spreadsheets and enjoy a well-deserved retirement. Hiring Jennifer positions us well to make a seamless leadership transition as we continue to foster a culture of fiduciary responsibility, transparency, and oversight within our organization.”
When Humphrey starts her position with the city on Aug. 18, the budget process for 2015 will already be well underway. A July 22 Board of Directors study session highlighted Gosack's financial outlook for the city in the upcoming year.
"Our 2014-15 financial outlook has improved compared to our 2013 outlook," he wrote in a memo to the Board. "The local unemployment rate is currently at 6.3% compared to 7.8% at the same time last year (a 19% reduction). Inflation is approximately 2%. Revenues are meeting budget projections for the most part, and we've not had to consider service or spending cuts as we did last year. For 2015, we're projecting most major revenue sources to grow slightly or remain flat. These include sales tax, property tax, franchise fees, water and sewer sales, street operations revenues, and sanitation revenues as outlined below. No rate, tax, or fee increases are included in these assumptions."
Even though no rate increases were included in the assumptions outlined by Gosack, he did acknowledge that sewer rates increases "will likely be necessary in order to begin implementation of the consent decree requirements for wet weather sanitary sewer system improvements."