Fort Smith budget plans include almost $87 million for 2022 utility work

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 522 views 

Several multi-year spending plans will be presented Tuesday (Oct. 12) to the Fort Smith Board of Directors, including almost $87 million for utility department projects in 2022 and an estimated $10.8 million proposed training center for the city’s police and fire departments.

The city’s engineering department plans for neighborhood street improvements, major street projects, drainage improvements, and traffic signal/intersection improvements totals $45 million in 2022. Work planned between 2022 and 2026 totals $158 million and includes $15.5 million for the Kelley Highway extension to Riverfront Drive, and $3.337 million budgeted in 2023 for widening of Highway 45 between Zero Street and U.S. 71 South.

Some of the work is funded by the city’s 1% tax for maintenance and new construction on streets, bridges and drainage which generated $22.66 million in 2020. Collections through September of the tax are up almost 16% compared with the same period in 2020.

The Fort Smith Fire Department is submitting a $3.491 million list in 2022 with a $1.55 million ladder truck the biggest line item. The plan will require at least $1.051 million from the city’s general fund for the request. Fire Chief Phil Christensen said items not yet budgeted but “require attention in the immediate or near future” include a $10.8 million combined police/fire training center and a $600,000 maintenance facility.

“With a training center classroom located on premises of our training facility, academic to practical hands-on training would be streamlined, resulting in better consistency of training evolutions,” Christensen noted in his letter to City Administrator Carl Geffken. “With a large lecture style classroom both Fire and Police could host regional, or even national training courses. These type of courses are paid for by visiting departments, resulting in a small return on investment for each class held plus the addition of tax dollar revenues by each police officer or firefighter visiting Fort Smith.”

The FSFD budget also includes $2.4 million for fire station 12 in 2024 if the city continues to annex land south and east.

The Fort Smith Police Department submitted plans for $1 million in spending, which includes $380,000 for a “community relations incident response vehicle,” and $250,000 for primary patrol vehicles.

Parks and Recreation Department capital improvement projects for 2021 totals $3.688 million, and $5.3 million in fiscal year 2022. Larger items are $2.7 million in the two years for the Maybranch Trail and $1.95 million for Riverfront Drive sports fields. Maybranch Trail will be a 2.9 mile, 10-foot wide trail between Creekmore Park and the riverfront.

“These projects are funded by the 1/8% Sales and Use Tax dedicated to parks improvements. This tax was voted on and approved by the citizens of Fort Smith in 2012 with a sunset date of October 2022. Should the tax not be renewed and/or not be earmarked for Parks, the capital projects identified in the latter part of 2022 through 2026 will not have adequate funding,” Parks and Recreation Director Doug Reinert noted.

Equipment and other capital requests in 2022 from the Solid Waste Services Department total $2.88 million.

The largest budget tallies come from the city’s Utility Department which is primarily responsible for work to meet the federal consent decree. After years of failing to maintain water and sewer infrastructure to federal standards, the city entered into a federal consent decree with the federal Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Justice in late 2014. The consent decree required the city to make an estimated $480 million worth of sewer upgrades over the course of 12 years. Because of inflation and the state of the city’s sewer system, that number is estimated to be closer to $650 million.

Over the past six years, the city has spent approximately $127 million in capital costs for required improvements added to the $200 million on storage tanks and equalization basins to reduce wet weather sanitary sewer overflows, the basis for the consent decree requirements, spent prior to the consent decree.

Following are summary totals provided by Utilities Director Lance McAvoy.
• The water 10-year capital improvement plan (CIP) total is $329.266 million. This includes estimated numbers to complete all of the phases of the water transmission line that will cross the Arkansas River.
• The total water CIP for 2022 is estimated at $30.68 million.
• The non-consent decree wastewater 10-year CIP is $159.882 million. The total non-consent decree wastewater CIP for 2022 is estimated at $19.434 million.
• The consent decree 10-year CIP total is $316.053 million. “The CIP is based on the current
required projects, however, it spreads several of the projects over multiple years and reschedules projects to be more financially feasible,” McAvoy noted.

The planned utility work includes an estimated $10 million to relocate water and sewer lines during the overlay and other work on Towson Avenue by the Arkansas Department of Transportation in 2022 and 2023; $22.015 million for work on the aging Massard Water Reclamation Facility between 2022 and 2026; and $15.715 million to repair wastewater systems damaged in the May 2019 Arkansas River flooding, with much of that work expected to be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“The total estimated CIP need for 2022 for all three CIPs is $86,953,300. As presented the overall ten-year Utility Department CIP total is $804,202,380. The City is working to secure additional funding from the State of Arkansas to help offset the cost of the projects provided in the Ten Year CIP,” McAvoy noted in his budget outline to Geffken.

The Fort Smith Board meets at 6 p.m., Oct. 12, in the Blue Lion at 101 N. Second St. Link here for a PDF of the meeting agenda that includes the budget plans.

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