Fort Smith Position 7 At-Large Director Don Hutchings on Tuesday (Nov. 21) formally announced his mayoral bid for 2018, joining a pool of candidates that consists of Rep. George McGill, D-Fort Smith, and Luis Andrade, a 21-year-old immigrant from Brazil and University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS) student.
Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders is retiring after his second term ends on Dec. 31, 2018, and he had endorsed Rep. McGill prior to Hutchings’ announcement. The Fort Smith mayoral job pays $10,000 a year, with a $450 monthly auto allowance.
Hutchings is the lead pastor at Evangel Temple. His last contested election was against opponent Sherry Toliver in November 2014 — a contest he won with over 60% of the vote (11,045-7,293).
Hutchings offered brief comments to Talk Business & Politics on Tuesday, calling his opponents “great people.”
“My style is a little different. Forty years of serving as a pastor has taught me how to turn problems into solutions,” Hutchings said, adding that he loves “serving people.”
“We have the best citizens in Fort Smith. Sometimes we just need a little help. I believe in the future of our city. Our best days are ahead of us,” Hutchings said, adding that it “has been a high honor to serve eight years as a City Director” and that he believes the experience along with his five years on the city’s planning commission have “prepared me for the position of Mayor and give me great insight on the needs of our community. Hopefully I can help more people in this new position.”
Hutchings complimented the Board, stating that “We are all so different, but that is healthy. I look forward to us embracing the future together and helping our citizens fulfill their dreams.”
To get there, Hutchings cited three issues on the horizon that will need to be addressed in part by the future Mayor and Board. Those issues include “working through this consent decree and protecting our citizens from any more financial stress.” Since the federal consent decree against the city for years-long violations of the 1973 Clean Water Act went into effect in early 2015, citizens have watched their sewer rates increase by 167%, and Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken already has said rates will have to increase again if the terms of the consent decree cannot be renegotiated.
Hutchings also noted that the city needed “lower taxes and fees.”
“People need relief,” he added.
The third issue Hutchings shared with Talk Business & Politics was the need for more economic development and jobs. Fort Smith has trailed other parts of the state in job creation and wage growth in spite of it being the state’s second largest city.
The number of employed in the Fort Smith region totaled 117,905 in September, up from the 116,931 in August, and up from the 116,058 employed in September 2016. The number of employed in the area is down 6% compared to the high of 125,426 in June 2006.
However, 975 new jobs at ArcBest, the opening of the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education’s inaugural college of osteopathic medicine, and job announcements at PRADCO and Methodist Village as well as the city’s frontrunner status for a Silgan Plastic Food Containers manufacturing facility have been recent bright spots for the regional economy.