Revisiting the hire-fire authority of the Fort Smith City Administrator and a review of finances and operations at the Fort Smith Convention Center were part of Tuesday’s (April 14) study session held by the Fort Smith Board of Directors.
The Board voted Feb. 3 to table an ordinance redefining personnel authority of the City Administrator moving forward. In November 2013, the Board voted to empower City Administrator Ray Gosack to make hiring and firing decisions regarding department heads. The new ordinance would take that power away from Gosack and redistribute it to the Board of Directors.
During the Feb. 3 meeting, City Director Kevin Settle said hiring and firing power should be given back to the Board, noting that “it’s the responsibility of us elected to be the voice of the people,” and that “we seven are elected every four years, and ultimately I think the department heads need to be responsible to the people, which is us.”
At Tuesday’s study session, Mayor Sandy Sanders said he has heard from “citizens of high standing” who want to keep the hire-fire authority with the city administrator. However, Directors George Catsavis, Tracy Pennartz and Settle asked for the issue to be placed on the April 21 regular meeting agenda. The vote of only two Board members is required to place an item on a voting agenda.
Tim Seeberg, general manager of the Fort Smith Convention Center, said the facility is not likely to ever generate enough revenue to cover the about $1.4 million in annual expenses. However, he told the Board he hopes to “lower the subsidy” the city pays to keep the convention center open.
Total revenue for the center in 2014 was $709,163, Seeburg said, a record for the center and up 8.9% compared to 2013. The city’s general fund covered the cost difference between revenue and the $1.4 million in 2014 expenses. Seeberg said the subsidy was reduced by $37,359 in 2014 compared to 2013.
Seeberg credited alcohol sales for the increased revenue. Such sales were $111,434 in 2014, well ahead of the $69,408 in 2013.
The center hosted 230 events in 2014, down from 237 in 2013. Seeberg said the gain in revenue despite fewer events shows that convention center use is more about quality of event than the number of events.
In responding to a question from Director Pennartz about the possibility of more revenue, Seeberg said the center could make more money if it had a kitchen to handle food sales, but even that would not close the gap. Seeberg also said
more than 90% of convention centers do not cover their costs, but are instead set up to generate money for the local economy.
To that point, Seeberg said the economic impact on the local economy of events at the convention center in 2014 was $17.049 million, which generated local tax revenue of $545,594.
“You can credit a lot of that (increased revenue and economic impact) to the local events that come in,” Seeberg said.
The center had 117 local events in 2014, just ahead of 116 in 2013.
Pennartz asked Seeberg for a list of ideas on generating more revenue for the center. Mayor Sanders quickly noted that such requests must go through the Fort Smith Advertising & Promotion Commission, the group contracted by the city to manage the center. Pennartz said whatever the process, she’d like a list of ideas. Seeberg agreed to provide those.