Jarred Rego has visionary plans for the city of Fort Smith that he hopes to work toward when he takes up his seat representing Ward 1 on the Fort Smith Board of Directors in January.
Rego, a senior development officer for Mercy Health Foundation, was the only candidate for the city board position held by Keith Lau, who did not seek reelection. Because he was the only candidate to file for the position, Rego was named the Ward 1 director-elect on June 1 and will take office in the new year.
Rego ran on a B.I.G. platform designed to “help lead Fort Smith to a brighter and better future.” That agenda includes bonding together in the face of challenges, innovating in a quest to prepare for the future, and growing in a vibrant and sustainable way. Rego said he wants to make Fort Smith a place where the next generation wants to be, not the place they want to be from. The way to do this, he said, is to expand on the good parts of Fort Smith.
“Fort Smith is the second largest city in Arkansas. We need more community pride in that to show that Fort Smith is a great place to live,” he said.
Rego, the father of three, said Fort Smith has 12 years to convince this year’s kindergartners, which include his daughter, Kate, to view their hometown as a place filled with opportunities to lead fulfilling, meaningful, and productive lives.
“We have a 12-year audition process to make Fort Smith the place they want to live,” he said.
Fort Smith has, Rego believes, a strong education system with Fort Smith Public Schools and their soon to open Peak Innovation Center, the various faith-based schools in the city, the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith and the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education. The key now is to support these institutions and promote them, he said, noting there needs to be more options for pre-kindergarten in the community.
He said Fort Smith’s trail system also is a great asset to the community, but city leadership needs to continue to augment and expand the trails and to encourage and promote their usage to promote a healthier lifestyle for those in the city. He said though the city is a great place to live, more work is needed to make it more attractive to younger demographics and to continue to grow.
“There is lots of work to do on civic pride and pride in community,” Rego said.
He said he plans to have a neighborhood listening tour to find out from residents what their hope is for the next 10 years in the city. Rego believes a new decade deserves new ideas and that the city should consider a summit of some sort to see what ideas are in the community.
“I want to raise awareness, to get them to picture and define their hopes,” Rego said. “And then I want to work towards that. I think a proactive response to their concerns will go a long way to restoring civic health. … There is not a government monopoly on ideas. I Hope to be able to encourage and facilitate a discussion.”
One of the concerns he knows his fellow citizens is the federal consent decree. After years of failing to maintain water and sewer infrastructure to federal standards, Fort Smith entered into a federal consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Justice in late 2014. The consent decree requires the city to make an estimated $480 million worth of sewer upgrades over the course of 12 years. 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.
On May 7, the EPA and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) agreed that the city has proved that the sewer improvement program will be “inordinately expensive, accordingly, qualified for an additional five years of implementation time.” At the time, the city said it had received a five-year reprieve on the estimated $480 million consent decree entered into in 2014.
“I am interested in what else can be done on the consent decree to relieve some of the burden to Fort Smith residents,” Rego said.
He is also interested in urban renewal. By that he means, what can be done to utilize vacant and rundown space in the city. He said he would like to look at forming an urban renewal commission or council that can consider policies for development and use of these spaces.
“Maybe we have pop-up shop areas in downtown or retail areas not currently being utilized,” Rego said.
New branding for the city could also attract new employers, he said.
“I would like to have a tiger team who could look at what makes our peer or near peer cities attractive to large employers. Maybe we can inject something into our community to be more attractive and fix the city in positive ways,” Rego said. “We have to set the course of our city for the 21st century.
“I think there is work to be done to put our best possible foot forward as we countdown to 2032,” he added. “We have a good base. We just need to build on it.”
Rego is senior development officer at Mercy Health Foundation Fort Smith. He is founder and chairman of the board of Fort Smith Forward Civic Action Group.