$3 million contract to help address Fort Smith water leaks; payment system approved

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 619 views 

The Fort Smith Board of Directors agreed during its regular meeting Tuesday (Sept. 21) to pay up to $3.07 million for a contract with Fort Smith-based Forsgren to get the city’s water leaks under control.

On Sept. 14, Utilities Director Lance McAvoy told directors there were 279 active leaks in the city. That number had risen to 337 by 5 p.m. Tuesday. McAvoy noted, it is not unusual for more leaks to be reported during this time of year when there is less rainfall.

“We had 30 called in Thursday (Sept. 16) alone,” McAvoy said.

In February 2020 the utility department had repaired 70% of the city’s reported leaks at that time with only 212 reported leaks left to repair. The hope was old repairs would be fixed in a timely manner, and then the department would only have to focus on new water meter installations, repairing newly reported leaks and preventative maintenance on the water system. At that time all the equipment the board approved to purchase in August 2019 had not yet arrived and though some employees had been hired, there were still vacancies.

When fully staffed, the department will be able to run 10 crews repairing leaks and installing new services, McAvoy said. The department only has three to four crews working on the leaks and new service at any given time. There were 18 vacancies in the department in August, McAvoy said, noting the lowest number of vacancies this year was in May when there were 14.

In 2020, the city had 607 reported leaks, and the city fixed 685. As of Sept. 13 the utility department had repaired 404 leaks this year. McAvoy said the approved $3.07 million contract with Forsgren will be for the installation of approximately 500 water service connections and the retirement of the old, leaking services. Existing meters will either be replaced with new water meters or if a new meter is already in place, the meter will be removed from the old meter box and placed into a new meter box.

“This project will be paid on a leak by leak basis and will come in under the total bid amount (because the department currently has less than 500 leaks on the pending list),” McAvoy said.

Utility department staff also will continue to make repairs and set new service connections during the time of the contact, which also will reduce the number of outstanding leaks, he said. The funding for this project is available through accruals in the department’s budget due to position vacancies. An inhouse construction inspection team will verify the amount of materials Forsgren uses for each individual project and will make certain each leak repair is done properly, McAvoy said.

“There will be an inspection report for each leak to make sure everything is billed properly. We will be billed for materials and labor in hours,” he said.

The cost per leak is estimated to be about $61,000, which McAvoy said is normal for this type of contract work. He noted there would be savings if the work was all done in-house, but the contract help would allow the department to get caught up on the old leaks, some of which have been on the pending list since 2017. Once the backlog is eliminated, McAvoy said his department should be able to keep up with new reported or discovered leaks.

“My goal would be to not have any leaks on the list over 30 days,” he said.

PAYMENT SYSTEM APPROVED
The board also approved an agreement for utility bill payment services with Kansas City-based Payit. Payit will allow customers to pay their utility bill (water, sewer, and solid waste) online or by using a mobile app. It also can be expanded in the future to allow payments for such things as business licenses, tax remittances and parking tickets, McAvoy said in the memo.

“The application will supply the city with the tools to improve our online customer service the current CSS portal does not have,” he said.

The agreement will include an initial five-year contract with auto renews for successive one-year terms unless a party to the agreement provides written notice to cancel. There is no upfront fee to the city. Payit will also aid the city by providing 24-hour phone support for the customers and City, the memo said.

The new Payit system will be launched in conjunction with the upgrade to the city’s current ERP system, which should happen after the first of the year, McAvoy said. At that time, customers will already have to fill out updated customer service portal login information because of the upgrade, and it will be an easy time to make the switch, McAvoy said.

“People will have a new way to go in and pay their bills with a proper, practical user interface. And it will save … credit card numbers (which can not be done on the current system), making it a much more usable system,” Geffken said at a study session Sept. 14.

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