Fort Smith ISO rating now ‘elite’ in nation, Board waives downtown parking meter fees during December

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 184 views 

Fort Smith’s Insurance Service Office (ISO) rating has improved from Class 2 to 1, “the most elite classification in the country,” according to Fort Smith Fire Chief Phil Christensen.

He made the announcement in front of the Board of Directors at the first of two annual budget meetings Tuesday (Nov. 29). The ISO provides statistical information on risk. ISO ratings are calculated on a scale of 10 to 1 with 1 representing the lowest risk.

Christensen said the previous rating was already “very good,” but the upgrade will help lower insurance rates for Fort Smith residents. Asked to qualify the reasons behind the improvement, he credited Fire Station No. 11 at Chaffee Crossing on 8900 Massard Road. The $3.1 million facility and adjacent street were funded through the voter-approved 2012 sales tax bond and the street sales tax. The facility, which opened at the end of 2013, was designed to cut down on the 7-8 minute Chaffee response time prior to construction. City response times typically run between 3-4 minutes.

Additionally, Christensen said, the department instituted an apparatus replacement program and added extra personnel to its fire trucks.

“It all added up,” he said.

Since the city began collecting 1/8-cent sales tax monies for fire improvements in November 2012, it has contributed approximately $10.095 million in additional revenues to the department.

Also Tuesday, the Board was reluctant to embrace a request for $33,000 extra in a cost-sharing deal to hire a second executive for the Riverview Hope Campus geared to help the city’s homelessness problem. Fort Smith Housing Authority Executive Director Mitch Minnick believes a second executive position is necessary to pursue grant funding the campus would need for ongoing expenses.

The city shares funding of one position, contributing $33,000, or half the overall expense. Minnick sought an additional $33,000 for the second position, but City Director Mike Lorenz did not see “enough justification at this time for the extra staff since the campus is yet to be operational.”

Directors Keith Lau and Tracy Pennartz agreed, but Minnick will be able to come back to the Board at a later date to provide further clarification. Construction on the campus began in October with plans to open in the fall of 2017. The goal is to bring service organizations throughout the city together in one location to serve hunger as well as mental and physical health needs, below-average work skills, and other issues common to the homeless.

The Board also weighed the future of parking meter fees in downtown Fort Smith. Temporarily, City Directors decided to shut down the meters for the holiday season in a move to boost economic activity that will result in approximately $6,000 in unrealized revenues, according to City Administrator Carl Geffken, who brought the idea to the Board in a special meeting prior to Tuesday’s budget hearing.

Geffken said two area businesses approached Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman and offered to pay the daily parking meter fees in front of their businesses every Friday in December.

“If we’re talking about three meters, for nine hours per day, for four Fridays; the cost to the two businesses is $27,” Geffken said, requesting the Board “waive all parking meter fees for the period of Wednesday, Nov. 30 to Friday, Dec. 30.”

“The City would probably lose approximately $6,000 of revenue if we did this but I think it would encourage people to come downtown and we could gauge, through visual inspection, whether the parking spots are taken up by one car for the entire day,” he added.

Long-term, the Board also discussed the possibility of raising max parking rates from one quarter per hour to 50 cents and parking fines from $5 to $10, but no decision was made.

Tuesday’s meeting covered development services, police and fire, and streets and traffic control. The remaining departments will be under review starting at 6 p.m. Thursday night from the Bartlett Community Room at the Fort Smith Police Department.