The Fort Smith Central Improvement Business District (CBID) board voted Thursday (Nov. 17) to approve a $253,000 budget for 2023 and to make public monthly reports of spending to stay transparent following the recent passing of an assessment in the district.
The Fort Smith Board of Directors approved an ordinance Nov. 1 that will put into effect an assessment on properties in the CBID. The assessment has been in the works for more than three years. The ordinance will allow the CBID, a semi-autonomous governing body, to levy a supplemental annual assessment of up to 10 mils on real property within the CBID boundaries – primarily in downtown Fort Smith. The assessment for 2023 will be 8 mils.
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, and a Green and Clean project. Both are estimated to cost about $110,000 in 2023, according to the approved budget.
The Fort Smith Police Department now has one downtown ambassador on staff who also services and enforces parking meters. Additional revenue from the assessment will fund at least two additional ambassadors so that more hours of the day/days of the week might be covered. The Police Department will incorporate the additional revenue line into their department budget for expenses related to this program, which is intended to cover salaries only, Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman has previously said.
Fort Smith Police Chief Danny Baker said Tuesday that someone from the CBID board will be involved in the initial interview process for the new ambassadors and their input on the nature of services needed would be solicited.
“We are going to be flexible with your needs …, but if we have a blueprint to start with, whether it’s just to say, ‘this is what our expectations are,’ that is very helpful. We can modify the hours and operational specifics,” Baker said.
While the board agreed to have someone involved in the interview process, they agreed that final decisions and operations needed to be left to the FSPD.
“Who knows better when they need to be there and what they need to be doing than (the police department). The officer knows when the problems are occurring,” said Commissioner Phil White.
The Green and Clean project would include streetscape maintenance and landscaping, and could incorporate care of flowerbeds and 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.
At the meeting, the board also agreed that monthly reports on the revenue collected and spent on the programs needed to be presented each month. The report will specifically look at how things are progressing with the programs funded. Revenue totals from the assessment will accompany the CBID treasurer report attached to the commission’s monthly agenda. The board also discussed having an annual town-hall-style meeting open to property owners and district business owners.
“I think it will allow the property owners to feel more included in the process,” Commission Chairman Bill Hanna said. “We could also get feedback on what else we need to be doing.”
The approved budget also includes $5,000 for consulting services, $5,000 for architect and engineering services, $1,500 for accounting and auditing services, $10,000 for legal services, $1,500 for small equipment, and $10,000 for special events, for a total of $253,000. Any funds not spent in 2023 will rollover for program funding in 2024.