The Fort Smith Board of Directors set preservation of the 188th Fighter Wing mission and advancement of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System (MKARNS, A.K.A. "the 12-foot channel") as post-election priorities for 2013.
The decisions came at the Tuesday (Oct. 23) study session when city directors met with lobbyist group Watts Partners to prioritize for the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.
During the session, directors learned that sequestration is off the table for the immediate future, but that "it's still out there," according to Watts managing partner Steve Pruitt, who speculated that talk of the Department of Defense (DOD) military cuts could resurface in 2014 preparations for the fiscal year (FY) 2015 budget.
"If sequestration were to occur, it would essentially ... ensure that there would be a 2015 base realignment discussion and possible action," Pruitt said. "If you recall, when the President originally proposed his budget to eliminate the operations of the A-10, he also called for a 2013 and 2015 BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) discussion, which again the Fort Smith facility would have been part of."
The Budget Control Act established a so-called "Super Committee" tasked to find $1.5 trillion in budget cuts for purposes of reducing the national debt. The Act stipulated that if an agreement was not reached, the automatic cuts of $1.2 trillion would hit several areas, including at least $500 billion in U.S. defense budget cuts. When the Super Committee failed to agree on budget cuts, the "sequestration" cuts were put into play and scheduled to begin in early 2013.
"They eliminated '13 (BRAC), but '15 is still hanging around out there, and it could either come back as a result directly of sequestration or, again, because of the cuts that could be part of a budget deal to avoid sequestration, we could have DOD re-propose the 188th cuts as part of the 2014 budget process, and that budget will be presented the first week of February next year. So while in the short term I think there's a general understanding that we've dodged a bullet on that one, it's still floating around in the air," Pruitt said.
FIGHT FOR FUNDING
Watts Partners advised that "brick and mortar" projects would receive special emphasis from federal government funding interests in 2013.
"We expect some significant reorganization of congressional committees in the House. Many members on Republican leadership are term-limited and have reached their terms, so expect some fairly significant changes on the transportation and infrastructure side."
Pruitt continued: "My suggestion is, get ready to travel and wear a comfortable pair of shoes. This coming year with us going back to member recommendations requires a lot more handholding from local communities who are really trying to get things done."
Watts Partners chairman J.C. Watts encouraged Fort Smith to fight for its funding.
"What you're asking for — transportation dollars, airport dollars, DOD dollars — probably 80% of what you all are applying for, there should be trust fund dollars there. You’re literally saying, 'Give us some of our money back that we’ve sent to Washington,'" Watts said.
Following are other priorities on which the city directors agreed.
• Interstate 49 between Interstate 40 and Arkansas Highway 22
• Industrial site improvements at Chaffee Crossing
• May Branch flood control project
• Wet weather sanitary sewer system improvements
• Arkansas 45 widening between Zero St. and U.S. Highway 71 South
• Runway expansion at Fort Smith Regional Airport
• Lake Fort Smith water transmission line
• Jenny Lind Road project between Dallas St. and Phoenix Ave.
• Trolley steel rail system extensions in downtown Fort Smith
• Highway connection between Interstate 540 and Clayton Expressway
OCT. 30 STUDY SESSION PLANNED
Also Tuesday, the Board decided by vote of 4-3 to hold a study session Oct. 30 in the fifth Tuesday slot that is generally left open. The decision was reached after a suggestion from Fort Smith Director Phillip Merry, who wished to revisit televising the monthly citizens forum that follows the regular meeting. The board will also discuss results from the National Citizens Survey conducted during the summer.
Fort Smith Director Kevin Settle suggested "waiting for the new (post-election) board" to address televising the citizens forum, but Merry disagreed.
"I think we were elected to govern while we were in office, not to wait for the future. I don't see anything wrong with having a discussion and not to wait three months. I do not agree with waiting to do our work when we're here to do our work," Merry said.