Residents who had their dreams of a larger Ben Geren Aquatic Center crushed at the Feb. 19 meeting of the Sebastian County Quorum Court may have reason to hope again following Tuesday's (March 5) meeting of the Fort Smith Board of Directors.
In a 5-1 vote, directors approved an amendment to the city and county's interlocal agreement that would require the city to repay $467,500 over four years to the county should the county decide to reverse their previous decision to reject any additional amenities at the new water park.
City Administrator Ray Gosack said while it was not a sure thing that a new vote among members of the Court would pass, he felt that having a legal, binding contract in place would nudge justices of the peace in the direction of passage.
"Our hope is with the city's actions addressing one of their concerns, that they'll see that the city is committed to repaying the funds," he said. "So we're hopeful that will convince some of those who were initially against the additional work to support the additional work with the city's commitment."
In the amended agreement, the city has committed to repaying the county $100,000 per year in the years 2014, 2015 and 2016 on or before October 1 of each year.
"By Jan. 31, 2017, from a funding source determined by the City, the City will pay to the County a sum which is the different between $467,500 and the sum of the payments provided by the City to the County in operating years 2014, 2015 and 2016," the agreement reads.
At the Feb. 19 Quorum Court meeting, Court members also expressed frustration about not having conceptual drawings showing what an additional $820,000, the money the county would front for the project addition initially, would provide citizens.
But Gosack said that concern is being addressed, as well.
"The architect is working on that now so that by the March 19 Quorum Court meeting, they should have a revised concept plan for the aquatics center," he added.
District 6 JP Danny Aldridge said he agreed with Gosack's assessment of why Quorum Court members voted against the additional amenities.
"This amendment, I think, should answer a lot of questions that the Quorum Court members had about the sincerity of the city," he said. "This should answer their questions fully. I'm confident that we're going to get it approved and get the citizens the bigger water park that they want."
The only member of the Board of Directors to vote against the amendment to the interlocal agreement was Ward 4 Director George Catsavis, who said the city cannot afford any additional funds for the project.
"I see that our revenues are declining coming in right now," he said. "And I see some tough times ahead and I'm just not going to use taxpayer's money to fund something that's going to lose money in this economy right now."
In other business, the board:
• Approved amending the Master Land Use Plan map and rezoning property at 2501 North 50th Street from Commercial Regional (C-4) to Commercial heavy (C-5); and
• Approved an ordinance rezoning property at 7712 Taylor Avenue from Not Zoned to Industrial Moderate (I-2).
Absent from Tuesday's meeting were At-Large Postition 7 Director Philip Merry, who was out of town on personal business, and Mayor Sandy Sanders, whose mother passed away early Tuesday morning in Oklahoma City. Vice Mayor Kevin Settle presided over the meeting.