Fort Smith receives first Comp Plan invoice
Taxpayers are getting their first glimpse at what more than $329,000 in consulting fees are buying them as the city of Fort Smith revamps its comprehensive plan first created more than a decade ago.
The consulting firm working with the Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee, Wallace, Roberts and Todd of Philadelphia, submitted a detailed invoice for $44,954.40 on June 18 for various fees and services the company has provided the city. Broken down, the firm worked a total of 244.25 hours, meaning the fee broke down to payment of $184.05 per hour.
Much of the first invoice included completing tasks such as "committee formation" and completing a "public participation and outreach plan." The committee held its second meeting on June 20.
Included within the fees are reimbursements for supplies, such as maps and documents, as well as travel expenses for three senior executives with WRT to travel to Fort Smith, via Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA), for two and a half days worth of meetings with city employees, the steering committee and other "stakeholder" groups.
"They had meetings with the task force group, the technical review team of the department heads. It was a pretty intense two and a half days, plus their expense of getting here for three senior staff members," said Wally Bailey, director of planning for the city.
He said the breakdown of fees and expenditures was not a surprise to him. He said the work is specialized, and the fees reflect the type of work being completed by the firm.
"We don't have anybody (on staff) who we can say, 'This is your project. Go do it.' And it's a specialized field of work in the planning area."
The work done by the group, he said, was something that even if the planning department had the ability to perform would not be possible with the intense workload held by himself and other staffers in the planning department.
"It's all we can do just to stay up with the daily activities that we have to do," Bailey said. "We spent two and a half weeks a month planning for the next planning commission meeting."
The amount of time his own staff had spent working on the update to the comprehensive plan, he said, was something that he was unable to calculate, explaining that since his office does not deal with billable hours, they normally do not break up their work days into various categories.
"To be honest with you, we've not set down – we're not keeping a time card on any of our internal stuff like this because we don't bill anybody for it. If we were an attorney or doctor, we probably would. We've not done an estimate. We're just doing whatever it takes to get it done."
A lot of the work conducted by the planning department's staff is accommodating the ongoing work of the WRT team, including setting up calls and meetings with local groups that will be involved in the development of the comprehensive plan.
As for the cost of the overall contract with WRT, Bailey said the dollar amount was not a factor for himself and the other city officials involved in selecting the consultants.
"Since this is for professional services, you pick them just like architects and engineers, you don't interview based on money, you interview based on qualifications of the job for professional services and negotiate the contracts. We don't negotiate dollars until (a consulting firm) is picked."
As of right now, the invoice appears to be on track for what the city had budgeted for this year and will budget for next year in order to pay the firm what it bills the city for tasks, such as $25,000 for "articulating the vision." Bailey said those tasks are part of the process of updating the plan and are expected as the next year and a half goes forward.
"That's going to be (WRT) taking the information that's been gathered from the meetings in a box, the open house meetings that we have, the meetings we'll have at the end of July, all of the visionary efforts that have happened with the staff, citizens and steering committee, that will be when they start to put that together and putting the vision together," he said. "And of course, meeting will be a two way thing – preparing it and presenting it to everybody and working with the steering committee."
Link here for a PDF copy of the invoice.