The Fort Smith Board of Directors on Tuesday (Nov. 15) approved a capital improvement plan for the Fort Smith Police Department (FSPD) for funds raised from a recently passed 0.75% sales tax to fund consent decree work and add additional funding to the department.
Almost 57% of city residents voting in a May 24 election approved the 0.75% sales tax extension that will see 83.3% of the tax revenue supporting federally mandated sewer system improvements, with the remaining 16.7% directed to the FSPD from Jan 1, 2023, to Dec. 31, 2030. The tax generated $19.6 million in 2021.
Tuesday night, directors approved five-year capital improvement plans (CIP) that will see $1.14 million going to FSPD for pay raises in 2023 and $2.29 million and $2.86 million going toward those raises in 2024 and 2025 respectively.
“(O)ur most critical need is, and always will be, hiring and retaining quality police officers suited to the demands of 21st Century policing,” Police Chief Danny Baker said in a memo regarding the CIP. “Accomplishing that comes at a higher cost every day as the number of people suitable and willing to be a police officer diminishes and demand rises. Significant salary increases for officers will be necessary to attract and retain them particularly as other agencies continue to raise salaries and offer monetary incentives.”
He proposes a 23.87% across-the-board salary increase for all police officers –except the chief – while adding five officer positions per year beginning in 2028, noting that he used 23.87% as the amount necessary to bring the entry-level officer pay up to $50,000 a year, which will match the new Arkansas State Police salary scale.
Baker said adding positions, buying new cars and building precincts will be meaningless if the department cannot retain officers. The raise will “aid us tremendously in filling our ranks and keeping them filled,” Baker said in the memo.
Funds generated from the tax will also allow the FSPD to more easily bear the expenses of a consolidated 911 and/or training facility in 2025 and renewal of its contract with Axon in 2026, Baker said. Axon makes body cameras, tasers, and software.
“With the exception of those years with items flagged in red, I anticipate being able to cover most of our personnel and capital expenses (including the proposed raises) with funds generated by the 1/8 sales tax after 2023,” Baker said in the memo.
Items flagged in red in the CIP include $5 million for the city’s pledged portion of a combined public safety/communications center. FSPD and Sebastian County 911 public safety answering points must be consolidated by 2025, Baker said.
The board also approved a five-year CIP for the Fort Smith Fire Department that will use funds raised from a 0.25% sales tax for the fire department and Parkas and Recreation renewed by Fort Smith voters in May.
“Annually, we collect on average $2.7 million to be used for Fire Station 11 (Chaffee Crossing location) personnel and operations with the remaining revenue set aside for apparatus replacements,” Fort Smith Fire Chief Phil Christensen said in a memo on the CIP.
Outside of station 11 operating costs, $7.67 million in revenue from the tax has been used to purchase the FSFD burn tower training facility and many pieces of equipment that allows for a fire apparatus replacement program that has allowed the department to successfully replace aging apparatus each year since 2017.
“Maintaining a fire apparatus replacement program is a major factor in keeping our firefighters safe, the citizens protected, and minimizing downtime for apparatus repairs,” Christensen said.
The approved CIP will allow for continued replacement through 2030.