The Fort Smith Board of Directors has approved a 78.61-acre annexation, extended liability payouts to $10,000, and approved a five-year extension to the operating agreement for Parrot Island Waterpark with American Resort Management.
Actions came during a regular meeting Tuesday night (Oct. 17) from the Fort Smith Public Schools Service Center. Also, one director issued a public apology for an outburst at a recent study session.
To start, the Board voted unanimously to approve the Robert A. Young III, 2008 Trust’s request for annexation of property located at the northeast corner of the intersection of Arkansas Highway 45 and Geren Road after a brief Q&A with representing attorney Josh Carson. Carson confirmed it was too early to tell specifics since investors did not want to lay out money for detailed design and development plans without first being accepted into the city. Carson reiterated earlier comments from Fort Smith Director of Development Services Wally Bailey the development will include residential housing as well as small-scale commercial retail locations.
Bailey, who counseled with each department after receiving the order for annexation from Sebastian County Judge David Hudson in September, did not foresee significant cost issues for bringing water and sewer services to the area. Any infrastructure costs incurred are likely to be paid back through an expanded tax base once commercial developments start picking up steam. The affirmative vote on Tuesday allows for a 30-day appeals process before land annexation becomes official, but none objected at Tuesday night’s meeting or at prior public meetings.
Also during the regular meeting portion, city directors, with some hesitancy, voted to up liability limits to $10,000 from $5,000 for incidents involving inside water meters on private property in response to a recent incident in which Midtown Apartments unsuccessfully sought exception to the rule. Midtown incurred damages in excess of $13,000 due to city negligence. The $5,000 payout was approved, but Midtown representative Kerry Norman argued it left the organization with a liability of more than $8,000 after her insurance company said they would not cover the damages since the city was at fault.
A majority of directors argued Norman had not filed a claim and relied on that process (and subrogation, likely), instead of petitioning the city for direct reimbursement. Despite acknowledging fault in the incident, the Board felt an individual settlement would set a dangerous precedent.
Under sovereign immunity laws, the city is not liable for damages it may cause as a result of negligence. Before 2014, the Board had set the limit at up to $500. That year, they decided to up the limit to $5,000. Tuesday’s vote creates a $10,000 exception related to water leaks to water meters located inside privately-owned buildings. It does not remove the $5,000 total from most cases.
Director George Catsavis placed the item on the agenda. He also issued an apology related to water meters Tuesday night during the officials forum. At a previous study session, he had commented, “More power to them,” when discussing citizens of Fort Smith not being billed correctly (or at all) for their water usage, essentially getting free water while others in the city paid full price. Frustrated by a possibly sudden 21.3% increase to some water bills once the meters are replaced, Catsavis left the meeting early and, on the way out, said he would remove the address from his house so staff wouldn’t change out his meter.
“I want to apologize to Vice-Mayor Settle and the Board. I got a little frustrated, and said some things I probably shouldn’t have said,” Catsavis said, adding that he “didn’t act appropriately” and it was “a bad choice of words.”
“I apologize to the (city) employees, and it won’t happen again,” Catsavis said.
Finally, the Board unanimously approved a five-year extension to the agreement with American Resort Management (ARM) to continue running day-to-day operations of Parrot Island Waterpark. ARM has turned a profit with the taxpayer-approved facility since taking over.
However, profit margins have been too thin to afford a needed $1.5 million expansion in the next 14 months, so city directors and Sebastian County Quorum Court members will have to decide how to pay for the $1.3 million difference should they decide to move forward. ARM warned the expansion would be needed sooner rather than later to maintain community interest in the facility, and they presented a plan to install two large raft-based slides called Boomerango pending approval from both government bodies.