Fort Smith officials to vote on trash, softball funds

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 104 views 

Garbage and softball will again be the main topics when the City of Fort Smith Board of Directors convenes at the Fort Smith Public Service Center for Tuesday night’s (June 5) meeting.

The softball portion of the meeting could include a debate over funding timetables between promoters of the River Valley Sports Complex (RVSC) at Chaffee Crossing and officials with the Sebastian County Girls Softball Association

City Directors will attempt to finalize plans to abandon automated collection to 13 of the 21 remaining neighborhoods that are yet to make the conversions from non-automated collection.

The conversion to automated collection was intended to reach completion by the end of 2012 before hitting a snag. Following expense of approximately $38,000 in surveys that showed a majority of residents wanted the automated service, the board voted to revert to non-automated collection in the Park Hill East neighborhood.

The final survey indicated that 442 (about 55%) of 804 respondents preferred non-automated collection. City Director Philip Merry said “the 55% (who oppose automated collection) of the 27% (who responded) is pretty clear,” and that he believed the results of the survey should be honored.

Merry was joined by Director Pam Weber, who told The City Wire in April that her willingness to move forward with automated conversions depended on the results of the final survey. “We’ll just wait to see how the surveys come back,” Weber said.

Should the board vote to abandon the remainder of automated conversions, Fort Smith’s monthly sanitation charge of $14.38 could rise $2.50 per month across all neighborhoods despite the fact only 8% of Fort Smith residences would be using the non-automated system.

At the board’s May 29 study session, City Directors Andre Good and Kevin Settle dissented. Good chastised the board for not standing by Nkokheli’s efforts to “save tax payers money and operate more efficiently” through the automated program.

“We go above and beyond for our citizens, and we give our staff and department heads their just due. With a majority of them, we say you run your department, you do your job well, and here’s a pat on the back. Right now, we’re not doing that,” Good said.

Nkokheli added that only 27% of households participated in the final survey (around 442 out of approximately 3,000) “due to a certain apathy since the board had voted against the stated preferences of the majority on the last two surveys. … We didn’t get a lot of people, who felt it would matter one way or the other (how they responded).”

Also under consideration Tuesday night is the decision to approve an appropriation ordinance to begin funding and to submit a grant application for the Army National Guard to undertake earth-work on the River Valley Sports Complex (RVSC) at Chaffee Crossing.

The grant application would enable the RVSC project to begin prior to its June 2013 start date, thanks to an in-kind donation from the Guard to handle “clearing, grading, and earth-work,” as early as this summer, Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith and co-organizer of the project, stated.

Stabilization of the site until city funds could begin would run $6,860, Files said, adding that he hoped to focus solely on the application submission approval Tuesday night so not to “convolute the issue or confuse it.”

“If the guard does approve the application, I would request that we have a discussion with the Board about funding at that point, and not before,” Files wrote in an email to City Administrator Ray Gosack.

On Monday (June 4), Gosack, said the board would also have to pass an appropriation ordinance Tuesday to affirm the city’s $1.6 million commitment to the project, “because when Jake (Files) filled out the application, he’d included that amount as having been appropriated.”

Gosack said if the appropriation ordinance is delayed, then the RVSC organizers could re-submit their application showing no funds had been appropriated, but that it could negatively affect whether the Guard’s contribution is approved, a likelihood Files confirmed.

“The Governor requested that it (the application) be completed by a local municipality, city or county,” Files said, adding that if the application is submitted and approved, National Guard services could begin “in 30-45 days.”

One hangup for the board and Mayor Sandy Sanders, in beginning the project early is the previous commitment made to the Sebastian County Girls Softball Association (SCGSA) to add two additional fields at Ben Geren Park that would replace the two lost when the city transferred property for use of the National Cemetery.

On May 10 the Board met with the Parks Commission to set priorities for funds derived from the bond tax extension passed by voters in March. At the meeting, Sanders threatened to veto any measure that delayed setting the fields at Ben Geren as a top priority.

At the board’s last study session, Files said he’d been in contact with Mike Bock, the SCGSA president, and that Bock was “open to the idea” of RVSC receiving early funding. Under the RVSC plan, the SCGSA additions would still commence and conclude prior to the RVSC, but funds would be spread out, and the closing date on the SCGSA additions could end up taking longer than August 2013.

On Monday, Bock sent a letter to Gosack on behalf of the SCGSA stating that the Board “has voted 4-0 not to support the request,” stating that advancing the start of the RVSC “would not lead to an improvement in services offered to the youth of our area.”

Bock noted that his organization holds league games “from April to early October” and that Sen. Files could “promote the use of the National Guard for the construction of the ball fields at Ben Geren (where SCGSA is active).”

Bock continued: “The money saved could be used to advance the time table of the Chaffee Crossing project or be used for other projects like the beautification of downtown Fort Smith. If Sen. Files could get the National Guard to do both projects, that could save the tax payers or redirect almost $600,000 in funds.”