Extra Fort Smith sales tax money may pay for Creekmore Park pool improvements

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 1,084 views 

The city of Fort Smith may use around $4 million from $14.635 million in remaining proceeds of a voter-approved sales tax to pay water and sewer bonds. The bonds were paid off in September 2022, but the tax was required to continue until December 2022.

“Over the life of the bonds, the sales tax generated funds in excess of the amount required for the yearly bond payments so the city was able to pay off the bonds in the third quarter of 2022. … During the fourth quarter of 2022, October through December, the ¾% sales tax plus bond escrow funds generated $14,645,239,” Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken noted in a memo to the Fort Smith Board of Directors.

The recommendation from city staff was to use 100% of the proceeds on required federal consent decree work, Geffken noted in his memo.

After years of failing to maintain water and sewer infrastructure to federal standards, the city entered into a federal consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Justice in late 2014. The consent decree required the city to make an estimated $480 million worth of sewer upgrades over the course of 12 years.

On May 7, 2020, the EPA and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) agreed that the city has proved that the sewer improvement program will be “inordinately expensive, accordingly, qualified for an additional five years of implementation time.” The city received an additional five years added to the 12 in the order to implement changes.

But on Tuesday (Feb. 28) during a Fort Smith Board study session, City Director Kevin Settle said the unexpected funds give the city “a once in a generation opportunity” to make substantial improvements to the bathhouse and other facilities at the Creekmore Park pool. Settle proposed using up to $4 million for Creekmore pool renovations.

The pool is the region’s only Olympic-size outdoor lap pool, and includes a diving facility, a shallow-depth splash area for smaller children, public bathrooms, and lifeguards.

The facility is aging, and the bathhouse – which includes showers, and changing areas needed for swim meets – has for years been part of improvement and renovation discussions. An initial draft of possible pool and associated facility renovations by Crafton Tull, and engineering firm, includes an estimated price tag of up to $15 million for several phases of work. Geffken said Tuesday that a first phase, which would include a complete bathhouse remodel, has a price tag of around $5.5 million.

Director Lavon Morton agreed with Settle, saying he was “anxious to do something about the bath house,” but wanted to “fully commit” $10 million of the unexpected tax proceeds to consent decree work.

With Tuesday’s meeting being a study session, no action was taken. Geffken and city staff will expedite the ongoing study of Creekmore pool improvement plans and return at a future board meeting with more definitive costs and plans, and info on how to use money that could be available by the Parks Department for the work.