Fort Smith utility payment assistance expanded; bike share program approved

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 535 views 

The Fort Smith Board of Directors approved an ordinance at its regular meeting Tuesday (May 17) that will better aid lower income households who qualify for the city’s Project Concern that provides utility payment help.

Project Concern is a utility assistance program developed in 1983 that offers relief to Fort Smith seniors and other citizens meeting certain income thresholds with water, sewer and solid waste bills. To qualify for Project Concern, customers must meet certain income requirements. The eligibility requirement is 165% of the federal poverty guideline for the number of people living in the household, said Water Utilities Director Lance McAvoy.

“Many other utility assistance programs have an eligibility requirement of 125% to 150% of the federal poverty guideline. There is no suggested change to this requirement, but it is important to point out that Fort Smith is doing more than many others to help low and fixed income residents,” McAvoy said in a memo.

The passed ordinance changes the program so water residential volume and sewer residential base fees will now be discounted by 50% and discounts to the solid waste residential rate increased from 19% to 25%.

The board also passed a resolution authorizing an agreement between the City of Fort Smith and the Western Arkansas Planning and Development District (WAPDD) for the Bike Share Pilot Project. The board authorized an agreement between the city and Tandem Mobility to secure a fleet of bikes and e-bikes at its April 19 board meeting. Tuesday’s agreement between the City and WAPDD was to formalize the payment structure along with the program responsibilities.

“The bike share program had tight deadlines with the Federal grantor, so we worked together to get the program started and finalized the details for the contract. This was the first Board meeting I was able to bring the agreement to the Board,” said City Administrator Carl Geffken.

The city kicked off its RIDE 4 SMILIES program Thursday (May 12) in north Fort Smith. The low-cost bike-sharing service is being deployed in areas where the majority of residents report not having a vehicle or access to reliable public transportation.

“We are excited to give our residents the opportunity to experience the many benefits of cycling,” said Fort Smith Mayor George McGill. “From picking up a few items from the convenience store to simply taking a ride and enjoying the outdoors, bike sharing is a healthy way to travel.”

Program partners – the University of Arkansas, the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education, the Future School of Fort Smith, Tandem Mobility, Champion Cycling, Riverside Bikes, the city and WAPDD – have established eight stations with shared bikes that can be accessed using an app called Movatic. After downloading the app and creating an account, residents can scan a QR code on the bike, ride it where they need to go, then return and lock it up at the station.

Initially, one-hour rides will be free to encourage participation. Over time, researchers will test pricing and incentive strategies to develop a sustainable revenue model that balances profitability and affordability, a city news release said.

Supply chain issues have delayed the delivery of electronic bikes. Traditional bicycles will be used until electric bikes arrive.

The project is funded through a $1 million National Science Foundation grant awarded to the University of Arkansas College of Engineering. The study is titled Shared Micromobility For Affordable-Accessible Housing, or SMILIES.