story by Luke Hobbs
The Fort Smith Board of Directors voted to approve the fluoridation of the city’s water supply in Tuesday’s (August 2) regular meeting.
Act 197 of the Arkansas Legislature’s 2011 regular session requires all water systems servicing more than 5,000 residents to fluoridate their water supply.
Delta Dental of Arkansas, a private foundation, has pledged $2 million to cover startup costs for water systems that are fluoridating for the first time. Fort Smith’s startup will cost between $1.4 million and $1.7 million, according to City Administrator Ray Gosack. The annual operating and maintenance expense of fluoridation is estimated at $90,000.
In Tuesday’s meeting, City Director George Catsavis asked City Utilities Director Steve Parke how much the annual fluoridation expense would raise residents’ water bills. Parke said that while the Utilities Department has not calculated the exact impact, it will be less than one cent more per water bill.
Catsavis also asked Parke whether Delta Dental would pay for the equipment required to fluoridate. Parke said the city will apply for that, but if Delta Dental does not fund all the equipment, the board will have to decide how to come up with additional funding.
Gosack said the city’s water budget is about $38 million per year, so the added annual cost of fluoridation is less than 50 cents per resident.
The vote to approve fluoridation was 5-1, with Catsavis the only ‘no’ vote. Director Philip Merry Jr. was on vacation and did not attend the meeting.
Also in Tuesday’s meeting, the board decided to wait a little longer to address the potential annexation of Southridge Industrial Park.
The board had previously heard the issue in April, when there was a dispute between property owners in Southridge and in Riley Farms, which lies adjacent to Southridge and is part of Fort Smith.
Riley Farms property owners had complained that some of the Southridge properties were causing drainage, lighting, and noise problems. In order to resolve these problems, Southridge property owners petitioned the city to annex their subdivision.
Annexation would allow the city to make improvements to Southridge’s water system, along with its streets and drainage. Water system improvements would cost an estimated $172,500. Street and drainage improvements would cost between $375,000 and $900,000, though it would only cost between $80,000 and $100,000 to satisfy the drainage complaints made by Riley Farms property owners.
Southridge property owners recently offered to contribute $40,000 toward water system improvements if the city approves annexation. On Tuesday, the board considered two options:
• Accept the Southridge contribution offer of $40,000, thus giving the property owners assurance to proceed with their petition, and table the matter for 3-4 months.
• Reject the contribution offer and zone the Southridge area as ETJ (Extra-Territorial Jurisdiction) Industrial-1.
Director Kevin Settle supported the first option, saying it represented the agreement made between property owners in Southridge and Riley Farms.
“We’ll be back in a county vs. city debate if we don’t approve this,” he said.
But Settle’s motion to approve the first option failed in a 3-3 tie vote, with himself and Directors Pam Weber and Steve Tyler voting for the motion, and Directors Catsavis, Andre Good, and Don Hutchings voting against it.
Good then moved that the board instead approve the second option. Settle made a substitutionary motion to table the matter for two weeks, and Good concurred. The board approved the motion, 6-0.
The board will hear the issue again in the Aug. 16 regular meeting.