Fort Smith residents in Ward 4 received updates on relevant fire department, streets and drainage, and water and sewer projects at the Ward 4 neighborhood meeting on Tuesday (Sept. 11), as the city government continued its “Progress as Promised” campaign.
Department heads each gave status updates on plans within their department, much of it tying in directly to the 1% sales tax extension that met with overwhelming voter approval in March.
Attendees were also allowed a question-and-answer session with the Fort Smith Board of Directors and small-group meetings.
Fort Smith Parks and Recreation Director Mike Alsup led off Tuesday’s meeting with an update on the aquatics facility at Ben Geren, slated to open Memorial Day Weekend 2014. Alsup said the city had hired an engineer to develop the plans, and that public meetings would begin “later this month (September), early next” with construction planned to begin “in late winter or early spring of next year.”
Alsup also updated progress on the two softball fields planned for Ben Geren Park, which should open in late 2013, and the eight-field “tournament quality” River Valley Sports Complex softball facility, which should open at Chaffee Crossing in 2014.
Alsup closed by stating that trails and greenways would become more of a priority in “later 2015 or 2016” with some planned for the Chaffee Crossing area “after the ball field complexes have been completed.”
STREETS, DRAINAGE, WATER, AND SEWER
Following Alsup, Stan Snodgrass, director of the Fort Smith Engineering Department, revealed progress on various streets and drainage projects, the most notable of which was the Arkansas 45 project from Zero Street to Phoenix Avenue, which Snodgrass said should be finishing up by Oct. 15 “with the bulk of it in time for the Christmas shopping season.”
The $14 million project is jointly funded by the city of Fort Smith and the Arkansas Highway Department, and will run the city “about $7 million” by completion, Snodgrass said.
Concerning water and sewer improvements, Jack Dillon, the city’s assistant director of utilities, highlighted wastewater improvements for 2012-2014, stating that approximately “$7.5 million worth of work” would take place within Ward 4.
FIRE DEPARTMENT IMPROVEMENTS
Also Tuesday, Fort Smith Fire Chief Mike Richards updated the audience on progress with the new fire station at Chaffee Crossing as well as the update of fire apparatus and fire service improvements for some of the department’s “aged buildings,” the youngest of which is 16 years old, Richards said.
Addressing the new station, Richards said the design development phase “is complete and has been submitted to the construction manager. Once that phase is complete, we’ll get the construction documents, put out bids, and toward the end of this year or early next year, we will break ground.”
The fire station, which aims to protect the city’s 2.0 ISO rating, should be operational by the end of 2013 or early 2014, and carries the design of a classic motor pool in order to stay consistent with the Chaffee Crossing area’s historic status.
Richards also informed attendees that the new fire apparatus, which included “three pumpers and three aerial trucks” were ordered for $4.1 million, approximately $200,000 under budget.
Finally, Richards said nine new firefighters will join the department with a planned start date of Oct. 1, thanks largely to the award of a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant in the amount of $987,309, which will provide salaries for a two-year period, after which the city sales tax will permanently support the positions.
Sales collections during the two-year period of grant funding will be used to replace the alarm notification systems in the 10 existing fire stations and will replace the breathing apparatus on all of the city’s firefighter equipment.
VOTING INFO AND AUDIENCE COMMENTS
City Clerk Sherri Gard closed city employee presentations by reminding the public they “still have time to vote in the general election,” with the last day to register on Oct. 8.
Registration, Gard said, should be done with the Sebastian County Clerk’s Office. Early voting will begin on Oct. 22 and will run through Nov. 5, including from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., on Saturdays (Oct. 27 and Nov. 3). Polls for the general election will be open on Nov. 6 from 7:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.
Finally, the floor was open for audience comments, which dealt mainly with trash pickup and tree canopies. One female audience member said she “did not think we should all be billed for something only a few people want” in response to the months-long debate of citywide automated trash pickup versus a system that allowed manual pickup to alleyways.
A male audience member advised that “until we get serious about stopping people, who trash the city, we’re not going to get anything done” about city beautification. He added that “until we have some meaningful fines, and once it gets known that it could cost you (to litter),” the problem would persist.
“We’re not focusing on where the trash comes from,” the man said.
To that point, Fort Smith resident and citywide cleanup organizer Paula Linder encouraged more people to participate in a planned Oct. 20 event originating from Martin Luther King Park.
“Volunteers need to step up, go out, and pick up this trashy city,” Linder said.
Regarding tree canopies and recent complaints that the city’s canopy level is only 13% of the recommended 40%, Fort Smith Director Pam Weber told the audience that she will be looking at “how we can get a program going to plant more trees.”
City-owned property accounts for “less than 1,000 acres” of the estimated 41,600 in the city, Fort Smith Administrator Ray Gosack told The City Wire in a recent interview.
“It’s up to the citizens. In our parks system, for every one tree that goes out, two are planted to replace it. But the parks acreage is only a few hundred. We have a few other city facilities, the old libraries, the Convention Center, the police and fire departments, but it still adds up to a very small percentage. We’re not going to make a substantial impact to the tree canopy by focusing only on city-owned property. It clearly takes private property owners,” Gosack said.