Fort Smith CBID assessment plan could be approved Nov. 1

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,350 views 

The Central Business Improvement District (CBID) Commission passed a resolution Tuesday (Oct. 18) that should be the last thing it needs completed before a petition for an assessment on CBID properties can be submitted to the Fort Smith Board of Directors.

According to a memo to the commission from Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman, the Fort Smith city clerk is nearing completion of the process to verify the petition submitted by the CBID to the city of Fort Smith to levy a Supplemental Annual Assessment of up to 10 mils on real property within the CBID boundaries.

The resolution includes confirmation and ratification of a general statement of the CBID’s “Plan of Improvement” and will benefit the assessment petition process by clarifying that the proceeds from the supplemental annual assessment will be used for operation and maintenance expenses associated with the Plan of Improvement, Dingman said in the memo.

According to state law governing the CBID’s assessment process, the Plan of Improvement must be on file with the city clerk prior to the levy of the assessment.

The CBID board has worked toward a property assessment – primarily in downtown Fort Smith – for more than three years. The board voted in August 2019 to pursue an assessment on downtown business. The Fort Smith CBID is the only one in the state not funded by an assessment.

Before an assessment can be levied, property owners who own more than 50% of the property value in the district must sign a petition agreeing to an assessment. There are 479 individual properties in the district, some of which are owned by the same entity. The board began collecting signatures on the petition in June 2021. Dingman gave the commission a report in July that shows owners of 53.22% of the property in the CBID have signed the petition, including Baptist Health Regional Hospitals, which owns about 28% of the property in terms of value in the district.

The CBID plans to use assessment funds to support an ambassador program with Fort Smith police officers as part of a downtown Safety and Security program. That program would cost about $100,000 annually, according to a proposed operating budget. The Fort Smith Police Department now has one downtown ambassador on staff. This ambassador also services and enforces parking meters.

“Additional revenue to fund at least two additional ambassadors so that more hours of the day/days of the week might be covered is needed from this assessment. The Police Department would incorporate the additional revenue line into their department budget for expenses related to this program, which is intended to cover salaries only,” Dingman has previously said.

The assessment would also fund a Green and Clean project that would include streetscape maintenance and landscaping, which could incorporate care of flowerbeds as well as pruning and possible replacement of trees, cleaning and repairs to benches, lighting and trash receptacles, litter control, conversion of lights along Garrison Avenue to LED and more. That program also is estimated to be about $100,000, the proposed budget shows.

“The Parks Department has an existing landscaping agreement with a third party contractor to service the streetscape landscaping knuckles at a ‘passable’ level,” Dingman said. “That program/contract would be greatly expanded to include all street tree maintenance and care, sidewalk & curb cleaning & maintenance, increased flower/plant volumes in landscaped areas, and more attention to beautification and detail by the contractor.”

Any remaining revenue above what is required for the two main programs would be maintained for the CBID to use for other operational expenses, programs or small-scale improvements as determined in their process to adopt an annual budget.

The proposed budget projects the assessment will bring in about $255,000 in annual revenue. Other expenses, including architect or engineering services for the landscaping project, legal services and other expenses would also be paid by the assessment, the budget shows.

The petition sets the assessment as not exceeding 10 mils. In April 2021, the CBID board voted for a cap of 10 mils and to cap any property owner at a maximum $10,000. There are about four properties in the assessment area that cap will affect, Dingman said.

Commissioners have said they will decide each year what the coming year’s assessment will be if the assessment passes. The first year’s assessment, if approved, will be 8 mils in 2023.

The resolution passed Tuesday by the CBID commission states that district was formed on May 18, 1976, and was established to for the purpose of establishing or operating “a shopping mall or malls, sidewalks, plazas, landscaping, fountains, parking facilities (including one or more parking garages), pedestrian overpasses and such other improvements, facilities and services and equipment …, all to be located, constructed, operated and maintained in such a manner and with such material and under such circumstances as the Commissioners … shall deem for the best interest of the District.” The resolution further set this statement of purpose of the CBID as its Plan of Improvement.

Dingman said with the passing of the resolution, an ordinance levying the Supplemental Annual Assessment is now ready to go before the city’s Board of Directors and there is “a very high probability” it will be on the agenda for the Nov. 1 regular board meeting for consideration and adoption.