Pay increase requested for Fort Smith Board; board elections set

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,560 views 

Fort Smith Director George Catsavis asked during Tuesday’s (June 7) board meeting that the city consider raising the car allowance for directors by $400 a month. He said the increase is fair considering rising fuel prices and the amount of driving directors do as part of the job.

Each Board member now receives $1,000 per year by attending all 24 board meetings, or $41.67 for each meeting, according to City Administrator Carl Geffken. If a board member is unable to attend a board meeting, they do not receive the $41.67 for that meeting. Each director also receives $5,400 per year as a car allowance, or $450 per month.

“It’s a much bigger job than people realize. I’ll say that I thought I knew what kind of a job it was, but it’s a much bigger job than anyone realizes,” said Director Lavon Morton. “That doesn’t mean that we should have a dramatic increase, but it means that what we’re paid should be fair.”

He asked city administration to find out what city directors in other cities are paid and how it may compare to Fort Smith. Catsavis said he has checked compensation in Northwest Arkansas, including Fayetteville, Bentonville and Rogers, and found their pay is anywhere from $900 to $1,250 a month in those regions and “that includes health insurance for some.” Vice Mayor and Director Jarred Rego said he would not support an increase in compensation or benefits, especially if it was not voted on by the citizens of Fort Smith.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Director Catsavis and the advocacy he plays on this board, the outreach he does, the connectedness he has with his community and his constituents. … We just part ways philosophically on this,” Rego said.

Morton said if an increase was agreed upon, any director not feeling they needed it could donate it back to the city.

Geffken said he would conduct a survey of other like cities in Arkansas, including Little Rock, Conway, Russellville, Barling and Siloam Springs and Northwest Arkansas. The issue will be put on an upcoming board meeting agenda.

The city’s form of government was changed from a mayor/commissioner system to a city administrator/board of directors system in 1967. Geffken said at the meeting he does not believe city directors have received an increase to their compensation since around that time, though he did not know when the car allowance began.

Three of the city directors will face opponents in the upcoming city elections. Director Robyn Dawson, representing the At Large Position 5 seat, will face challengers Christina Catsavis and Carl Nevin in an Aug. 9 primary election. If no majority is determined at the primary election, the top two candidates will be included on the general election ballot, according to City Clerk Sherri Gard.

Kevin Settle, Director-At-Large Position 6, will face challenger A. Drew Smith. Neil Martin, Director-At-Large Position 7, will face challenger Jackson Goodwin, in the Aug. 9 municipal election.

The Fort Smith mayor position also was up for reelection this year, but no candidates filed to challenge Mayor George McGill’s reelection bid by the filing deadline May 26. McGill, who was elected as the city’s first African American mayor in 2018, was declared elected with no opposition May 26.