Fort Smith Board approves $47.9 million budget

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

The Fort Smith Board of Directors passed a Fiscal Year 2014 operating budget at its regularly scheduled Tuesday (Dec. 3) meeting without much of the fanfare and disagreements seen during the last month of budget meetings that included one budget scenario that would have resulted in the layoffs of 14 city employees.

At issue during the last three meetings dealing with the now-approved budget was the city's use of previous year's ending balance in the upcoming year's budget, which has the city spending more than $2 million more than it brings in in revenues.

City Director Keith Lau has contended that such budgeting showed the city operating at a deficit based on revenues. The budget for next year has expenditures of $47.919 million and revenues of $45.716 million.

All members of the Board with the exception of Lau voted in favor of approving the original budget as proposed. Speaking before his no vote, Lau said he could not vote for the budget in good conscience.

"I just want to go on record as being opposed to this budget. I think that we haven't gone far enough to cut our expenses or increase our revenues – a $2.2 million difference between revenues and expenses."

City Administrator Ray Gosack said even with all the back and forth regarding the budget, the process served its purpose for the Board, which could result in changes when the city begins work on the FY2015 budget later next year.

"It served a very good purpose for the Board because it's made them more aware of the fundamental assumptions that go into balancing our budget and I think what they've indicated is they want to make sure they understand those assumptions and possibly modify them for the 2015 budget."

The Board also approved raising fares on the city's public transit. According to a memo from Transit Director Ken Savage, the rate increases approved include:
• Fixed Route - $1.00 to $1.25 per trip;
• Demand Response - $2.00 to $2.50 per trip;
• Additional Services - $3.00 per trip (demand response when fixed routes are closed; this is a new service);
• Private Charter-First Hour - $125.00 to $200.00; and
• Private Charter-Additional Hours - $65.00/hour to $100/hour.

In Savage's memo, he detailed the purpose for the rate increases.

"Higher fuel and equipment prices necessitate the need for the associated increases," he wrote. "Adjusting the rates would provide approximately $30,000 in (additional) revenues and would help establish equality among current rates for urban transportation services across Arkansas."

Area resident Pauline Novack spoke against the increase, saying it would price many transit users out of the system at a time when the economy is still struggling in Fort Smith.

The Board also declined a request from the Utility Department to acquire 3.59 acres of property along Navy Road through eminent domain. The property, which the Utility Department was attempting to acquire for $86,000, would have been used to construct a 3.5 million gallon equalization tank as part of the Mill Creek Pump Station project.

At issue was a request by the property's co-owner, Steve Beam, who said the city was not giving him fair value for the land, which he said is mortgaged at more than $200,000. He had asked the city to pay him $209,000 for the land, which would have also come with infill and gravel. Beam told the Board he would be willing to accept $146,000 as payment for the land, but Utility Director Steve Parke would not negotiate beyond the $86,000 offer.

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With the eminent domain plan rejected, both parties will go back to negotiating this week with Mayor Sandy Sanders explaining that the city could possibly call a special session next Tuesday (Dec. 10) in association with an already-planned study session to vote on a resolution authorizing the sale in order to move the project forward.

Parke explained that the project is part of a fulfillment of a Department of Justice consent agreement associated to wastewater runoff problems dating back to the 1970s.

In other business, the Board:
• Approved an ordinance amending the zoning map at 1000 South Waldron Road to create a Planned Zoning District;
• Approved an ordinance amending the zoning map from 201 Riverfront Drive to 3201 Riverfront Drive creating a Planned Zoning District;
• Approved amendments to the 2009 Unified Development Ordinance;
• Approved an ordinance amending the 2013 operating budget; and
• Approved an ordinance establishing salaries and benefits and related procedures for city employees.

Five Star Votes: 
Average: 5 (6 votes)

Comments

Eminent Domain..what luck compared to..

..somebody that knows the system wanting your property. Especially somebody that had gotten on the committee to implement the International Property Maintenance Code and then tweaked the deal to allow for anonymous code complaints. They then went around over the next few years calling in hundreds if not thousands of complaints on property they didn't like around town creating mass mistrust of the city government by people still standing at their mailbox and often seeing worse without moving an inch. In some cases it was because they wanted your property to change ownership...cheaply.

Everybody can see it..

..but only a few of us can understand it brethren! Government by it's very nature only exists as a parasite and it will continue to do so will little or no concern about destroying it's host.

Northside Windfall

I wish somebody would do eminent domain on the Northside of town. It would likely be the only way for owners to get their money back before they leave town......Make me an offer. I am not underwater with my mortgage but neighbors on N 7th are underwater literally every Spring rain season. Take my wife, please--Henny Youngman, comedian....while your at it take the house too, me and the old lady can split the money.

Raise rates??

Why raise the rates on transit? The people that need it the most will suffer. I have an idea don't spend over $1,000,000.00 on a walking trail down by the river. So let's cut police and fire budgets and then turn around spend $1,000,000.00 on a walking trail. Are you serious????

Its more than SERIOUS

Did anyone think about the overspending of 2.5 million taxpayer dollars on the water park? How about the 800,000 dollar projected loss on the convention center and the uncollected water bills of over 250,000 dollars from Van Buren, along with the uncollected 150,000 loan from a contractor, and here we go with an extra 1,000,000 dollars for a walking trail? Do we really pay someone to be a city manager and does fort smith really spend over 900,000 taxpayer dollars per year to run the city managers office and the mayors office? Are the taxpayers really getting what they are paying for? You decide!

Learn Your Facts

Um, the money for the new trail is from a Walton Foundation grant. You're welcome.

learning to read

Think the city is required to match the Walton Foundation grant with a million tax dollars of their own!

More learning

"The funding for the city's portion of the trail system will come from the city's one-eighth cent sales tax.." In other words, the matching money is earmarked and not part of the general fund which is the subject of budget debate.

It Is What It Is

A Tax is still a Tax no matter how it is clouded by the magic accounting systems of city hall. The taxpayers are still on the hook for the extra 1 million dollars of city spending to build a walking trail while the poor mouthing continues on the "General Fund". It kind of reminds me of a person buying a new car and then not having funds to put fuel in the gas tank!

"earmarked"

sorry but the use of the word "earmarked" reminds me of all the crony deals "earmarked" to authorize all the graft, corruption, and waste coming out of Washington D.C.

Wrong You're Welcome You Learn Your Facts

You learn your facts the Walton's money $1,000,000.00 is to be match by the CITY'S $1,000,000.00.

Thank you Director Lau!!!

So here we have the result that everyone expected. We have been promised budget reform and tightening and a better process for years and what happens? We approve the faulty budget, as is and maybe, just maybe, 2015 will be the year we get our better process. Really? Is anyone really expecting that in 2015 anyone will even remember what was discussed in 2013? Good job Mr. Gosack, you win boss of the year for saving everyone's job and giving them a budget wrought with problems and little analysis. Some of the Directors (Weber for one), seemed interested in getting information on the budget more frequently in 2014 so changes could be made quicker. Great idea, if you had not been in office for almost 3 years and just figured out that you did not like the amount and frequency of budget information. Shameful. Thank you Director Lau for speaking up and being the only hope we have on the Board. Perhaps, perhaps, in 2014, we will vote in some Directors that actually know something about finance and budgeting and we can get this done correctly.Of course, we have been praying for this for years and Director Lau is the only one we have gotten so far. Hope is a good thing, right?

where was George

where was director George Catsavis when the taxpayers were getting hosed again?

George was

Good old George was holding hands with Pam, Kevin. Andre, Mike, Phillip, and the band of merry spenders while poor old Lau was providing the entertainment! The show must go on!

Surplus/Deficit

I am no accountant so I have a simple question. At the end of fiscal 2013 will Fort Smith City government have a surplus to carry over into 2014? If not, then it is a real deficit. If there is a budget surplus, then there is no deficit. Maybe the issue is how big or how small the surplus aka reserve is. Maybe a smaller reserve cushion would be okay if we had tighter management for efficient city government. I suspect we have too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Maybe the taxpayer needs to circle the wagons again like when the 1 % Convention tax was the issue of the day.

Harken Back to year BG

Years ago "B"efore "G"osack, the city had a huge budget surplus but its all but GONE because they have spent more than they were taking in and did not balance the budget and continued to dip into rainy day surplus funds.