The Fort Smith Board of Directors approved a resolution authorizing the city administrator and city attorney to initiate legal action to enforce minimum water usage by the City of Barling at the regular board meeting Tuesday night (Nov. 20.)
The issue stems from a 2002 contract between Barling and Fort Smith in which Barling agreed to a minimum daily use requirement calculated on an annual basis.
In 2002, Barling had annexed all of Fort Chaffee into the city, but because of what all was needed to accommodate the growth in the Chaffee development area, part of the area was “deannexed” back to Fort Smith, Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken said.
At that time, there were negotiations, and Barling agreed to purchase water as an ordinary water user, which would allow for economic development, with a minimum daily use based on annual usage, Geffken said.
“The city never followed through on this to say you owe this much for water,” Geffken said.
Then in 2017 when the City of Fort Smith was looking into grant opportunities for the Chaffee Crossing area of Fort Smith, it was discovered because of the contract that Barling owed Fort Smith a little over $1.1 million for water, Geffken said.
“There was discussion about what was owed and the potential for a new contract and what we could do,” Geffken said.
A new contract was drawn up that would raise the wholesale water rates to $2.40 per 100 cubic foot from $1.80, Geffken said. The new contract was presented to Barling in August 2018.
“In October (2018), we again followed up. Barling had some issue with the amount and with the amount owed,” Geffken said.
At the Nov. 6 board meeting, Director Kevin Settle, At-Large Position 6, asked that a resolution be put on the agenda for the city administrator to complete negotiations of a new contract with Barling in a reasonable period of time regarding the minimum water usage under the 2002 agreement and if such an agreement could not be reached, for the legal action to be pursued to enforce minimum usage.
Barling City Director, Bill Young, at-large, addressed the board and asked that the two boards meet in order to avoid legal proceedings.
“Barling has been a good neighbor since the 1950s,” Young said. “I would welcome a joint study session (with the two boards). We don’t need to go to court.”
The directors agreed Tuesday night that negotiations and an agreement would be favorable to legal action but a time limit had to be set. Thus, the board amended the resolution to state that a reasonable amount of time would be defined as by March 1. The vote was 6-to-1 in favor of the ruling with Director George Catsavis, Ward 4, voting against the resolution.
“This doesn’t mean we are going to have to initiate legal proceedings,” Geffken said. “We’ll meet, and if there is no agreement by March 1, then we can take it to court. But if there is a good faith agreement on negotiating, I can come to the board and request an extension.”
In other business, the board approved a resolution 7-to-0 authorizing the purchase of 330 acres from Kansas City Southern Railroad Company adjacent to the Arkansas River and Riverside Drive for soft surface trails.