Fort Smith Board quizzed on budget

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 98 views 

story by Luke Hobbs
[email protected]

Fort Smith city directors got their copies of the proposed 2012 budget during Tuesday’s (Nov. 1) regular meeting.

The proposed budget will be available on the city’s website by the end of the business day on Wednesday (Nov. 2), according to City Finance Director Kara Bushkuhl.

In the meeting, Fort Smith citizen Elizabeth Mayo quizzed the mayor, city administrator, and board over several aspects of the proposed budget.

Mayo asked whether the new budget would cover the Ferris wheel in The Park at West End, which she said costs the city $23,000 a year. City Administrator Ray Gosack responded that West End will be included in the 2012 budget, but that operating costs were estimated to be less than $1,000 for the year.

Mayo also asked whether the new budget would account for $5 million in uncashed checks the City has received from the city of Van Buren for water usage. Gosack said that the checks total $161,000, not $5 million, and that the checks have not been cashed because of an unresolved dispute between the two cities over the amount Van Buren owed.

“If we cashed [Van Buren’s] checks,” he said, “they could say we were accepting the amount they paid.”

Gosack said the two cities are getting closer to a settlement in the dispute.

The city will hold two public budget review sessions between city staff, directors, and the mayor. The meetings will be held on Thursday, Nov. 10 and Thursday, Nov. 17. Both meetings will take place at the Fort Smith Police Department Community Room and will begin at 6 p.m.

According to City Communications Manager Tracy Winchell, departmental budgets will likely be reviewed in the following order:
Policy and Administration Services (Due to schedule, prosecuting attorney’s budget will be reviewed Nov. 17)
Development Services
Police Services
Fire Services
Street Maintenance
Water and Sewer
Parks and Recreation
Convention Center

Directors voted 5-2 to approve an ordinance establishing a policy and fees for the scattering of cremated remains at Oak Cemetery.

Gosack introduced the ordinance, saying that as cremation continues to gain popularity among the families of deceased loved ones, city staff felt it was time to establish some rules for scattering cremated remains, or cremains, in Oak Cemetery.

The ordinance allows families to scatter cremains at two locations within the cemetery — a grave space (with permission of the owner of the space) or a planned scattering garden.

The city will issue permits, charging a $25 fee for scattering cremains at a grave space and $50 for scattering cremains in the scattering garden.

The fee will also cover the name of the deceased person being recorded in the city’s official Oak Cemetery record.

Gosack said recording the scattering of cremains will aid future genealogists who come to the cemetery seeking information about the final resting places of those whose bodies were cremated.

City Director Steve Tyler questioned the fee amounts, saying he thought they might be too low. Mike Alsup, city director of parks and recreation, responded that city staff did not find a standard fee for the scattering of cremains and settled on the proposed fee amounts arbitrarily.

City Director Philip Merry Jr. said it seemed to him that the fee for scattering cremains would only apply if families wanted records of the cremains to be kept. Alsup said, however, that state law requires anyone wanting to scatter human remains to obtain the property owner’s approval, and that the paid permit accomplishes this purpose.

City Directors Pam Weber and George Catsavis voted against the measure.