The Fort Smith Board of Directors and top city staff are set to begin budget hearings Friday (Nov. 22) to review a budget that proposes more than $125 million in operating budget spending and a general fund budget of $43.185 million, $3.28 million less than estimated realized spending in 2019.
Operating budget revenue and spending has become more critical in recent years thanks to a federal consent decree the city began working on in 2014. The decree, mandated by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, requires the city to make an estimated $480 million worth of sewer upgrades over the course of 12 years – through 2026. Funding for consent decree work has come in part from water and sewer bill increases, which are up 167% since 2015. Funding for water and sewer work also comes from bonds supported by sales tax revenue and revenue from wholesale water buyers. Most of that revenue feeds the operating budget.
Also critical is the city’s general fund budget, from which fire, police, parks and other critical city services are supported. Following are some of the top numbers from the budget proposed by City Administrator Carl Geffken.
• Operating budget-Revenue
2020: $131.58 million ($6.081 million more than 2019 budget)
2019: $130.793 million
2019 estimated: $125.498 million (estimates are of actual spending that differs from the original budget)
• Operating budget-Expenditures
2020: $125.147 million proposed ($4.912 million more than 2019 budget)
2019: $133.981 million 19 fiscal
2019 etimated: $120.234 million
• Operating budget- working capital fund at year end
2020: $52.331 million ($6.081 million more than 19 budget)
2019: $37.445 million
2019 estimated: $45.898 million
GENERAL FUND BUDGET
• General fund budget-Revenue
2020: $43.185 million ($3.288 million less than 2019 budget)
2019: $44.489 million 19 fiscal
2019 estimated: $46.473 million
• General fund budget-Expenditures
2020: $42.502 million ($4.912 million more than 2019 budget)
2019: $44.351 million 19 fiscal
2019 estimated: $42.319 million
• General fund budget-fund balance at year end
2020: $17.393 million proposed for 20 fiscal ($183,445 more than 2019 budget)
2019: $12.694 million 19 fiscal
2019 estimated: $16.711 million
City Director and Vice Mayor Kevin Settle said one of the discussion points will be on new items the department heads may request.
“I think that will be looking at the new needs and how they integrate into the new budget,” Settle told Talk Business & Politics when asked to predict a key discussion point. “I really want to see how that all works out. … As an example, we have this 911, this need for a new dispatch system by the fire department, and that could be more than $1 million.”
Settle also said the public service budgets are crucial.
“We’ll also need to see what the police needs. That’s going to be very important.”
The 2019 police budget was $17.416 million, with the proposed 2020 budget set at $17.059 million. The 2019 fire department budget was $11.508 million, with the proposed 2020 budget set at $11.774 million.
Some of the millions to be spent addressing the consent decree includes adding personnel to help manage the process. For example, the utilities department is seeking to hire a contract specialist and a financial comptroller. Both positions are part of a reorganization plan proposed by the department, and are sought to meet the “ever increasing” contract management responsibilities and financial management needs of the department as it carries out the consent decree.
The budget hearing is set to begin at 8:30 a.m., Nov. 22, in the Bartlett Community Room of the Fort Smith Police Department. The daylong hearing is set to conclude at 5 p.m.
Link here for the city’s 2020 budget proposal document.