The Fort Smith Central Business Improvement District commissioners voted at their regular meeting Tuesday (June 16) on donating $2,500 to support a landscape design along Garrison Avenue.
John McIntosh, a board member of the new non-profit organization Fort Smith Tree Conservation Partners, told the commissioners of the groups plans to trim and shape trident maples on both the north and south sides of Garrison Avenue between Fifth and Seventh streets. The tree shaping efforts will create a landscape design module for downtown, McIntosh said. The trees would be trimmed and pruned into a cone shape that would allow them to stay under 20-feet tall with branches trimmed below to allow for easy walking under the trees.
“If we can make it work, it would certainly save a lot of money on treescaping,” he said. “We’re looking at doing this on two blocks that would be an example for the assessment.”
In April, the CBID agreed to hire Total Assessment Solutions (TAS), Sebastian County’s contracted third-party appraisal partner, to appraise the 115 exempt properties of the 470 that make up the CBID area. These exempt properties include those owned by governments, non-profits, churches, etc., according to information in the CBID meeting package. The total value of all the property in the district is needed in order for the commissioners to have an accurate idea of how much could be raised by an assessment on properties in the area.
The commission voted Aug. 20, 2019, to proceed with plans for property assessment within the district, a move they hoped would allow the board to do more things to improve the downtown area of Fort Smith. One of the projects the CBID commission plans to use monies garnered from an assessment to fund is a Green and Clean project that would include streetscape maintenance and landscaping, which could incorporate care of flowerbeds as well as pruning and possible replacement of trees, cleaning and repairs to benches, lighting and trash receptacles, litter control, conversion of lights along Garrison Avenue to LED and more.
The other is an ambassador program that would hire off-duty police officers as part of a Safety and Security program for downtown. That program would cost about $136,000 annually, according to a proposed operating budget.
According to state law, there are two types of assessments that can be levied against real property inside a city’s improvement district – a project/improvement-specific assessment, levied to fund a “specific ‘plan of improvement,’” or a supplemental annual assessment to be used for ongoing operations or maintenance activities, Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman said in a memo to the board dated Aug. 16, 2019.
Bill Hanna, CBID commission chair, said the assessment should be completed by October or November, allowing for an assessment to be levied in 2021. Before an assessment can be levied, more than 50% of property owners in the district must sign a petition agreeing to an assessment. The CBID commission would then present that petition and the plan to the Fort Smith City Board of Directors. Dingman said under the state law if the CBID has the required signatures on the petition, the city’s BOD would be compelled to approve the assessment as an ordinance.
The Tree Conservation Partners project will cost about $5,000 and will include working with OG&E to come up with a solar option that would power the lights on Garrison Ave, McIntosh said.
“It might be a little expensive to do that, but it would eliminate that one string of power lines up and down Garrison,” McIntosh said. “There would be no power lines on Garrison, which would be lovely. And then we wouldn’t have to worry about heights of trees so much.”
The CBID commission approved $2,500 for the project on the condition that the organization raise the other matching $2,500. McIntosh said they had almost raised that amount and the project could be completed this summer.