Fort Smith Board split on amended water park deal

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

The Sebastian County Quorum Court remains uncertain regarding its funding obligations to Ben Geren Aquatics Center after Monday's (Dec. 9) split vote. Ditto for the Fort Smith Board of Directors.

The Quorum Court voted 7-6 on Monday to amend an interlocal agreement with the city of Fort Smith, which would allocate an additional $800,000 in combined funding from both governments to the Ben Geren Aquatics Center project, bringing the aquatics center budget to a combined $8.8 million. Since the measure did not pass with a super majority of nine votes, it must come up for two additional readings before the Court before it is approved.

All Fort Smith City Directors were asked Tuesday (Dec. 10) if they would vote in favor of the amended interlocal agreement at their upcoming Dec. 17 meeting and why. Their answers are as follows:

• Director George Catsavis: "No, I'm not. It just comes down to money, you know? I originally voted against it and I'm keeping the same position. It just boils down to finances and money, to me."

• Director André Good: "I don't know how I'm going to vote Tuesday. I'm kind of perplexed. I don't know how to address it. I don't know how to vote right now. Whatever the city does…if we move forward, we're going to be taking money from other park projects. Whether it's community projects or capital projects, they're going to be pushed back so we can fund this right. I just don't want to make any rushed movements, any rushed judgments. I'd like to meet with the Parks Commission and see what their thoughts are. But honestly, I really wish we could just start all over. I wish we had more time - I wish we weren't rushed and pressured by time - to go back, start over and honestly probably get another bid or two for building this thing."

• Director Keith Lau: "I'm undecided right now and the reason is I don't feel good about it. And I don't know whether it's better to over promise and under deliver or to not deliver at all or to say the citizens voted for a water park no matter what. So I'm still undecided. I haven't decided."

• Director Mike Lorenz: "I'm for it. The whole thing was started initially by the county. You know, I'm coming in here second hand now and yeah, questions probably should have been asked earlier about how accurate the pricing estimate was they got. But we've got to work with what we've got and I think we can build a very suitable park for that amount and plan for future expansion."

• Director Philip Merry: "I am studying it and here's where I'm at: I want to find a balance in my mind of what is the most right way possible we can do this without wasting money. I'm researching. I'm not sure how I'm going to vote yet because here's the deal - I want to make sure voting for less doesn't end up costing us more. Voting for not enough park, what if that creates not enough interest to cash flow the thing later? The paradox could set in that not doing it right cost more in the end because it won't cash flow. I want to make sure we build something fun and attractive and will cash flow. And so if we have kids there but not the teenagers, eating french fries and watching their little brother or sister, then I'm worried about the cash flow. I'm for the park, I want the park. But I still want answers on how it got from $8 million to $11 million. Not to fuss, but to learn. I don't even know which features are in at what level. It went from $8 million, to $8.8 million, to $9.2 million, to $11 million and now it's back to $9.4 million. So I'm for a water park, I don't understand the mix of the numbers. And I don't want to waste money. So I'm looking for how much will get us the right program without wasting money."

• Director Kevin Settle: "I'm going to vote for changing the interlocal agreement because we've already approved it. That's where I'm at with that…The Board's already approved it, we're just changing the terms of it."

• Director Pam Weber: "I'm not for anything less than what we told the voters we were going to get them. ... I'm going to suggest that we go back and study and see if there's anyway that we can get our plan back to where we had it. I'm very firm that the young people in this community need a seat at the table. And we've all talked about how we need to attract young people here and most importantly, we need to keep the young people that we educate. We want them to feel good about their community, to feel like there's a place here for them. That's why I'm so adamant in pushing to get the original water park design.

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"I want to go back and say what do we have to do to get where we promised the voters we were going to be."

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Comments

Hello City Directors

Where have you all been? The word is out on Flintco of Tulsa and their 2 million in bribes paid for construction projects. A local experienced water park contractor has said that they could build a better water park with indoor pools for about 2 million dollars less! What is the problem? Say No to Flintco and hire the local contractor and keep our tax money working for us in Fort Smith with local jobs. Why would any City Director have trouble with that decision? Additionally, why would any County Judge or JP vote to waste 2 million dollars of Taxpayer money?

Thanks Pam

Thank you to Pam for bringing up that she wants to build a park with the features that were promised to the voters. I guess Settle is ok with cost over runs, a possibly smaller park, and an out of town contractor? The agreement he should be focused on is the one with the taxpayers, and clearly we are the ones loosing out. Either way you slice it, taxpayers either pay more and push other park services back, or we get less of a park. We loose again.

The Impossible Happened

How could County Judge Hudson, all of Quorum Court JP's, the Fort Smith City Administrator, the Fort Smith Mayor, and the Fort Smith Board Of Directors not be aware that Flintco of Tulsa is charging 2 million dollars more to build less of a Water Park than a local contractor stated that he could build? How could all of these so-called leaders not be aware of the FBI investigation of Flintco and the charges filed by the Attorney General that 2 million dollars were paid in bribes for construction project awards. It simply defies logic! Do these people have their heads in the sand or could it be that they are afraid to speak out? 2 million dollars is a lot of waste and it seems that someone should be asking lots of questions.

Kickback Markup

Let's view budgets with a "facilitation markup" in mind. We may better understand the rationale behind City and County expenditures in reality. That would be a good starting point for discussion.