Intended Consequences

As the water park morphed into a more expensive proposition (from $7.5 to $11.2), I think its important to look at the original ballot to best pinpoint the intent of the city and the people. 

 
The Aquatic Center Improvement Bonds read as follows:  An issue of bonds of the City of Fort Smith in the maximum amount of $4,260,000 to finance a portion of the costs of an aquatic center consisting of swimming and other recreational facilities and any parking, equipment, furnishings and utility improvements therefor, and in order to pay the bonds, the levy and pledge of a local sales and use tax at the rate of 0.75% within the City.

The Sales and Use Tax for Fire Department and Parks and Recreation Purposes read:  Adoption of a one-fourth of one percent (0.25%) local sales and use tax within the City of Fort Smith, Arkansas for a period of ten (10) years, commencing October 1, 2012, the net collections of which after deduction of the administrative charges of the State of Arkansas and required rebates (“Net Collections”), to be used by the City as follows:  50% of the Net Collections for park and recreation purposes and 50% of the Net Collections for fire department purposes.

 
Understanding there was to be a 50/50 split, the people voted to allocate $4.26M to this project and no more.  It would be through bonds and $4.26M was the maximum the people would be asked to give.  It passed and a spending limit was set .

But the quoted price was actually about the presented illustration and the idea of creating a destination grander than anything within driving distance.  We now understand the picture costs $11.2M, and Fort Smith must pull out another $1.34M or more.  If its about the "intent of the voters" than it is about the literal read of the ballot wording, than the voter's intent means not only should the City buy in bigger, but that its new share of the build should be no more than $5.6M.  The 50/50 split was also part of the intent.  The City cannot go to $5.6M without a similar County commitment.

In the meantime, while focus has remained on what it will cost to build the aquatic park, no time has been spent discussing the cost of its operation and maintenance.   From the original report on the project from The City Wire, we have this quote:  "A second concept could cost about $7.5 million, with a projected operating budget of $822,772 and projected revenue of $709,300, leaving an expected annual operating loss of $113,472. This proposal will serve 1,500, and is based on the county and city partnering on construction and operation." 
 
No details were provided concerning operating days or admission price information, so the projected revenues cannot be fully explored.  Likewise, without detail, neither can its costs.  But one thing is clear, this is the only accounting of operating costs presented, as best as I can tell, and it was first suggested back in January 2010 from a 66-page report (most likely written in 2009).  Keep in mind, this is the same report that originally priced the park at $7.5M.

Does it not stand to reason that if the construction costs have risen so dramatically, that the operating costs have as well?  But one thing is clear, the City expects its share of the operating loss to be limited to about $56,000. From The City Wire in February of this year, “Mike Alsup, parks and recreation director for the city of Fort Smith, said the center was never intended to be a money-making proposition.'It was always assumed that it would not break even,' he said.  To cover continued maintenance, Alsup said the city would use sales tax revenue to pay its share.  'We have a quarter-cent sales and use tax (that can help fund operations),' Alsup said."

Indeed, as pointed out in a TCW Editorial, the intended uses of that tax were published as follows:

— 0.25% of the of 1% sales tax will support Fire and Parks Department operations, to include:
• Operating cost of Fire Station 11 (Chaffee Crossing);
• Construction of a fire training center;
• Firefighter equipment and training;
• A sinking fund to help pay for future fire equipment purchases;
• Construction of two ballfields at Ben Geren Park to replace those removed when the National Cemetery was expanded;
• Aquatics facility operations;
• Improvements in facilities and maintenance at Creekmore Park, Fort Smith Park, Tilles Park and Wilson Park;
• Construction of a softball tournament-quality sports complex at Chaffee Crossing; and,
• Construction of soccer fields and park facilities along Riverfront Drive.
 

The Parks Commission must be better prepared to handle a much larger deficit.   Instead, it has opted to allocate $456,000 of these sales tax funds for the aquatic parks’ capital needs, which means diverting that money from the original intended purposes.  If anything, the Parks Commission should be asking for a cost of operations refresh and start putting sales tax revenues in a reserve fund to cover what will more than likely be much more than $56,000 in operating losses. 

With last night's parks commission vote, we are now to believe it is more about literal interpretation of the ballot initiative, and not its intended purposes, as described above.  If you still have faith in the $56,000 number, than the Commission just diverted eight years of operating expense shortfall to the building fund.  Since it still has to fund the shortfall, it truly voted to divert the money from all the other projects. 

Many who approved the aquatic park bonds and the fire/parks sales tax had no intention of ever going to the aquatics center.  They voted for both because they wanted both to happen and expect both to happen within certain parameters.  They don't expect the .025% sales tax money to be spent on the aquatic park's construction -- only bond money for that, but they do expect with those funds two Ben Geren ballfields, the aquatic park operations shortfall, improvements and better maintenance at four city parks (including the flagship Creekmore Park), a tournament-quality softball complex, and soccer fields with parking at the Riverfront.  These funds, if not approved by the voters, expire 10/2022, covering only 8 years of the operating shortfall.  What then?

If the intent of the voters compel us to approve more funding to build it; than the intent of the voters should equally be respected when it comes to 0.025% sales tax.

With the $456,000 removed, can the parks department still deliver on what was intended when passing the sales tax?  I have my doubts.  Will those who insist on the $11.2M structure be kind when the aquatic operating losses are posted and other parks decline as a consequence of diverted funds, I doubt that, too.  I want the best aquatic park possible, but I like to swim with my eyes open.

Five Star: 
Average: 3.6 (14 votes)

Comments

you failed to mention

An experienced local Water park contractor stated that he could build the Water park for millions of dollars less and also include 2 indoor pools while keeping the jobs and tax money local. You failed to list the most important part of this entire project that clearly is suspect because of the Flintco presence in the cost factor. Why?

throwing stones at Flintco

Flintco isn't mentioned because Flintco wasn't on the ballot that day. But the two ballot initiative above were. If the will of the people insists on a $11.2M facility than the will of the people also insisted on park improvements. Shuttling close to 1/2 million dollars of park improvement monies into aquatic center capital is just as bad as shuttling convention center funds into the city general fund.

Stones and Bush Beating

the people chose the water park as promised before the vote on the tax extension and that is a fact. Flintco was the choice of the County Judge and the City Administrator and that is a fact. Flintco was charged with paying out 2 million dollars in bribes for contract awards and that is fact. Flintco raised their original price of construction about 2 million dollars and that is a fact. A local experienced Water Park contractor stated that he could build the water Park as promised for about the original price estimate and also include 2 indoor pools and that is a fact. So my question is this----why are we still wanting Flintco who is an out of state contractor with a shady past to build our Water Park for 2 million dollars more then a local contractor could build the Water Park with better facilities for 2 million dollars less? Please answer the question Convivial and quit beating around the bush!
the people chose the water park as promised before the vote on the tax extension and that is a fact. Flintco was the choice of the County Judge and the City Administrator and that is a fact. Flintco was charged with paying out 2 million dollars in bribes for contract awards and that is fact. Flintco raised their original price of construction about 2 million dollars and that is a fact. A local experienced Water Park contractor stated that he could build the water Park as promised for about the original price estimate and also include 2 indoor pools and that is a fact. So my question is this----why are we still wanting Flintco who is an out of state contractor with a ...>> Read the entire comment.

Just my Opinion Happy

Facts are not important to the County Judge or the City Administrator and saving the taxpayers over 2 million dollars while creating local jobs is not part of their game plan. The talking heads that represent the city leadership have been called out in force to sweep up the dirt surrounding the Water Park fiasco and the brooms are busy creating a cloud of dust they hope will be blown away by the next breath of hot air. It is what it is and its not difficult to recognize the smoke screen.

Let me spell it out for you

The city erred in how they worded the ballots and presented the initiatives. The city/county erred in letting four years (2009-2013) of moss grow under the original concepts and pricing. The city/county egregiously erred in not updating operating costs over this same time period. The parks commission egregiously erred by taking park improvement monies and rolling them over to the capital project. We all erred in not requiring a more detailed plan regarding the interlocal operating agreement. (For example, who does the aquatic park director report to, how much will he/she earn and how would a large maintenance problem get approved for payment?) Is Flintco a mistake? Who the heck truly knows at this point? It's only natural to want this contract to go to a local company, especially with the differential in promised features and pricing. But to tell you the truth, if they had picked a local company, there would be just as much venting about it being an insider crony deal. I also think you underestimate the cost of picking the wrong contractor because you could potentially be talking about a near complete do-over if fabricated improperly. As much as I think this is a good project for the city, the missteps suggest a reboot but a further delay will turn this into a $12M project. The last thing I ever attempted to create here is smog.
The city erred in how they worded the ballots and presented the initiatives. The city/county erred in letting four years (2009-2013) of moss grow under the original concepts and pricing. The city/county egregiously erred in not updating operating costs over this same time period. The parks commission egregiously erred by taking park improvement monies and rolling them over to the capital project. We all erred in not requiring a more detailed plan regarding the interlocal operating agreement. (For example, who does the aquatic park director report to, how much will he/she earn and how would a large maintenance problem get approved for payment?) Is Flintco a ...>> Read the entire comment.

Adninstrator or/County Judge

By definition is an official who is responsible for administration and management of governmental affairs. Who was responsible for the creation of this Water Park nightmare for the taxpayers? Who failed to ask the right questions and make sure that the taxpayers were getting the best possible deal and the most cost effective results? Who failed to recognize that 10 million dollars spent in a local economy by a local contractor could create jobs and an economic impact for Fort smith of as much as 70 million dollars? Who never demanded answers on what the operational cost of the Water park would be? Where was the advance planning? Who selected the out of state contractor that had lots of fraud baggage attached and lobbied the JP's and the BOD to pass the project without a complete cost analysis? Who made all the promises to the voters if they approved the tax? If your answers are the County Judge and City Administrator, then heads should roll just like they do in the private sector!
By definition is an official who is responsible for administration and management of governmental affairs. Who was responsible for the creation of this Water Park nightmare for the taxpayers? Who failed to ask the right questions and make sure that the taxpayers were getting the best possible deal and the most cost effective results? Who failed to recognize that 10 million dollars spent in a local economy by a local contractor could create jobs and an economic impact for Fort smith of as much as 70 million dollars? Who never demanded answers on what the operational cost of the Water park would be? Where was the advance planning? Who selected the out of state ...>> Read the entire comment.

Let's call the whole thing off.

Let's stop using "attracting new businesses and residents" as an excuse to waste money on pork barrel projects. Instead we should be focusing upon attracting business based on the bottom line for those businesses. Private enterprise, not public speculation, will build amenities for its employees if that's what motivates workers and other business owners. We need to scale back local government. The budget is too large for a town of only 80 thousand population.

error after error

The taxpayers have been on the hook for error after errors by our city leaders who are paid very well to get things right. Do you have an opinion as to when enough is enough and the heads of the errant should start to roll? Be careful how you answer the question Convivial because my memory tells me that you have vocalized a whole lot of support for these hair brain adventure errors that have consumed a whole lot of taxpayer dollars that could have assisted the private sector in job creation. Does the Prepared Food Tax ring any bells? Ferris wheel?

in reply

actually, I signed the petition to bring the prepared food tax to a vote of the people. The Ferris Wheel makes a profit for the City and the City only leases the park so it can walk away at the end of any year.

Can't go Wrong

"city leaders who are paid very well to get things".... WRONG is more like it. Nice work if you can get it. Number one on the job description list: Must be able to politely say NO to everything for the little people in the community. Number two: Harass dissidents. Number three: Spend money like Van Buren water. ..........Feel free to add to the list....anybody...please do.

Flintstones, meet the Flintstones

I have no problem with Flintco being replaced as contractor. I really don't know enough about them or the local contractor to have a strong enough opinion to brow beat one or praise the other. I do think, however, that enough valid concerns have been raised. I do think due diligence was done in their selection. I don't think that any city or county official accepted any financial or in-kind gifts in return for Flintco's selection. I do think, as a matter of course, that the City should include a favored nation clause in their bidding process. I do know that having enough courage and conviction to run for city board gives you 1/7th of the decision making power who builds the damn thing.
I have no problem with Flintco being replaced as contractor. I really don't know enough about them or the local contractor to have a strong enough opinion to brow beat one or praise the other. I do think, however, that enough valid concerns have been raised. I do think due diligence was done in their selection. I don't think that any city or county official accepted any financial or in-kind gifts in return for Flintco's selection. I do think, as a matter of course, that the City should include a favored nation clause in their bidding process. I do know that having enough courage and conviction to run for city board gives you 1/7th of the decision ...>> Read the entire comment.

Failure to Launch

The County Judge and City Administrator have been put on notice that to proceed with this insanity is a professional kiss of death. The local contractor has a proven record of success in building Water Parks and has much more to offer for less money and that includes local jobs and help to a city economy in decline. Its a no brainer for cost control and job creation but it appears that an arrogant attitude is present in this leadership that will not allow their decisions to be questioned.

Oh the games people play now

But on a previous instance when the parks department had to take on extra expense you were banging away on the keys and all for it on the TCW convivial re the ferris wheel. It almost seems like the money has to be spent in a certain area of town and on precisely the things you want in order to escape your total and absolute scrutiny of all the minute details. Will you even mention it when the Marshalls museum morphs it way into the city budget even if rife with inconsistencies? Time will tell.

let me spell it out for Gen4

The Park at West End is leased by the City for $1/year. There are no capital commitments; the City only spends money on its variable expenses. Yes, I applaud the move. The park gives the City the distinction of operating what is believed to be the oldest working Ferris Wheel in the United States. The park has given at least four different nonprofits a community voice. The park makes a profit. The aquatic park locks the City into a permanent (yet to be penned) interlocal agreement but the funding to pay its project loss is only guaranteed for 8 years. The park is never expected to break even. And the losses were estimated back in 2009 and has not been updated either for the original plan nor for any modifications since. The City is about to invest $11.2M into a depreciable asset. I voted for the aquatic center and pen my concerns about its accounting and eventual management. If we're upset about its price tag now, imagine what it will be in 2035. I've voiced the same concerns over the Marshal museum and the plastic downtown park you want to spray water on your children, so expect more key banging.
The Park at West End is leased by the City for $1/year. There are no capital commitments; the City only spends money on its variable expenses. Yes, I applaud the move. The park gives the City the distinction of operating what is believed to be the oldest working Ferris Wheel in the United States. The park has given at least four different nonprofits a community voice. The park makes a profit. The aquatic park locks the City into a permanent (yet to be penned) interlocal agreement but the funding to pay its project loss is only guaranteed for 8 years. The park is never expected to break even. And the losses were estimated back in 2009 and has not been updated ...>> Read the entire comment.

There went another box of tissue back then

We often forget to calculate in the intangibles and goodwill. What is the value of capturing a photograph filled with exuberant expressions broadcasted [sic] from a revolving merry go round? What is the value of a Mom’s smile and constant wave as she watches her delighted children come down and around the wheel for the umpteenth time? What is the value of the tear in the eye of the part time employee who recounts children's hugs? (Quote Convivial TCW 09/03/11) I never cried with your latest creation Convivial so there must be something different going on and it appears to be mainly location. I also can't help notice the other day you opined that there was supposed to be something more akin (my words) to a blend of the 'Mall of the America's, Mt Rushmore, and the Bellagio' going in downtown rather than a plastic adorned splash pool for kids or perhaps a good place to spruce up a bit. No concern whatsoever about cost on this extravaganza which eventually will have to include 'A Bridge to Nowhere' was even mentioned by you. Would an extra 4 million bucks help out with this?
We often forget to calculate in the intangibles and goodwill. What is the value of capturing a photograph filled with exuberant expressions broadcasted [sic] from a revolving merry go round? What is the value of a Mom’s smile and constant wave as she watches her delighted children come down and around the wheel for the umpteenth time? What is the value of the tear in the eye of the part time employee who recounts children's hugs? (Quote Convivial TCW 09/03/11) I never cried with your latest creation Convivial so there must be something different going on and it appears to be mainly location. I also can't help notice the other day you opined that ...>> Read the entire comment.

Save your Breath Gen4

The infamous Convivial is a person who probably never traveled outside the make believe world of Fort Smith or could be an overfed elf who believes in the taxpayer sponsored Santa Claus. Merry Christmas Convivial and don't forget to drop a few tax credits in my stocking on Christmas Eve to fund my dream of retirement independence courtesy of the taxpayers. Ugh

Don't doubt your word but

How did you determine that the West End Park makes a profit Convivial? Do you believe everything that comes from city hall? Who pays the insurance? Does the park pay property taxes like it should if privately owned? How much were the property taxes when Mr. White was on the hook to pay them? We all know that the City Administrator has told a few tall stories that just were not close to true and one must wonder if he really remembers or understands what he is saying. Do you remember him saying that the Convention center would put Fort smith on the map? Do you remember him saying that all funds earned by the Convention Center would stay at the Convention Center? Do you remember 5 million dollars in Convention Center funds moving to his favorite non-profit? Do you remember him saying that the city could not afford TV broadcasts of the BOD meetings and then somehow finding an extra million dollars in some other account for spending on something else? Do you remember him saying that he would be forced to cut police and fire if the prepared food tax didn't pass? Do you remember him forgetting to collect the water bill from Van Buren? Do you remember him forgetting to collect the construction loan owed to the city? Do you remember him touting Flintco of Tulsa? Its fairly clear that prevarication is not a problem when making promises to get what he wants and that's my opinion.

doubting Thomas

I believe convivial is saying if you didn't like what happened at the convention center you should pay closer attention to how the city is proposing to play with dollars in the parks department and how the costs to run the water park are too old to be reliable. good points taken.

What if someone who was systemically illogical

bearing in mind they may often have unexplained periods of normalcy mixed in, became heavily involved in local politics for decades upon end? Perhaps they formed associations with people involved in all sorts of things who didn't realize there was another side, a far darker side, to this person? Perhaps I should lay off the audio books. Back to Convivial. The world seems to totally evolve around yesterday with this individual. Not trying to turn the West End Park into an innocent bystander here but as I read where he proudly states the Ferris Wheel MIGHT have been the one at the San Diego Worlds fair I find myself wondering how many people would actually go see Abraham Lincolns grave if he MIGHT be the one buried there?

systematic tarnish

The Ferris Wheel was featured at the San Diego World's Fair. The Ferris Wheel MIGHT be the oldest operating Ferris Wheel in the U.S. I cannot know with certainty if it is or not, hence, use of the word "MIGHT". Thanks for the opportunity to clarify this for you.

Don't expect a Boomer Answer

Who is collecting the rent on the Boomerang Restaurant and may not be paying property taxes on the property? Who insures the Property and who is paying that expense? Maybe the Convivial can answer that question and shed new light on how the taxpayers could be getting the short end of the deal. Its just my opinion that there is a flea in the basket somewhere and its needs more study and exposure. History in Fort Smith has proved that a good deal for the city is not a good deal for the everyday person that is a hard working taxpayer. Let the light shine in and lets get all the facts out there.

Can you spell loss.....

....or is losing money not in your vocabulary. The notion of living within our means especially during lean times seems to be a foreign language to the non-profits, who BTW do profit from their activity. Tax-exempt would be a more accurate depiction of your "non-profits". Tax-exempt means that the taxpayer doesn't profit. So let's get real. Cut back waste and pipedreams and Nepotism and BS. Local government and its cronies treat tax authority as a license to steal. This simply must stop as the well is runnin' dry.

Scenario For City Burial

Appoint the most inept individual with a dark side to manage your city who owns a clouded past where the subordinates can control the leader because of his past bad behavior and questionable practices. Reasonable organizational practices become non-existent because each functioning body becomes its own growing entity that competes with rival departments for a larger share of the taxpayer purse. Rivalrous behavior from section heads evolves into an out of control ritual of competition that devours normal business practices that have been time tested and successful. Essentially the appointed leader becomes a slave to the subordinate group who suborns the power over the purse. Subreption is rampant within the organization with the absence of leadership and spending spins out of control because the leader has become just a follower with no authority to stop the slide. It happened in Detroit and it can happen in any city with weak suspect leadership that lacks accountability.

If we had two administrators when the last one was there

that's certainly enough proof that one guy can do the job. Unfortunately other things are obvious along with this and they pretty much confirm what you have said. A situation was covered for and kept quiet for years upon end as long as everyone's own little deal worked good enough for them. I'm convinced if it ever does end on this planet, Ft. Smith at some point in time will have the last nepotist on the face of the earth living in it. Rather noticeable also when you go to your first planning commission meeting 30 years after graduation and you already know 3/4ths of the young peoples last names that are sitting up there. Of course it's a wonderful place to live for them.

tis the season

great comment anon and would love to comment but will save it all for another time because its "tis the season"

Oh How Well I Remember

The threats of loss of police and fire if the tax extension was not passed by the City Administrator and the promises of a grandiose Water Park with all the bells and whistles by the County Judge. Can you remember the Newspaper editor calling a County JP a "red herring" because he wanted answers on construction costs and operational cost along with responsibilities for the operation of the Water Park. The City Wire asked for answers and were given none by the creators of this taxpayer nightmare and I remember another fair haired JP running around town telling all how great the Water Park would be even if built by an out of state contractor with out of state labor and possibly a criminally charged construction group. Now its all out on the table and we all know that these promises were without study and without planning and appear to have been just the carrot needed to suck the voters in to approving a 10 year tax extension worth about 250 million dollars. Suck it up boys and deliver the goods because its not to late to change construction companies and do the necessary planning and cost analysis. How about a little management from the people that were making all their promises to get their hands on 250 million taxpayer dollars?

Red Herring News

Yes I do remember the Newspaper editor calling that JP a "red Herring" for asking the required cost control questions and now that the issue has exploded into a taxpayer nightmare, the JP looks like a taxpayer hero and the newspaper editor looks like a dead fish in the barrel of crony journalism! Thank God for The City Wire and getting the truth out to the public because it appears that it is the only true News source the people can depend on.

One Local Contractor.

Please, stop recommending the "one local contractor" who has water park experience, unless you've had experience as a "local subcontractor" and had to deal with their ongoing failure to finish a project and pay us "local subcontractors" who actually do the work in a reasonable timeframe. It's an ongoing issue and one I'm surprised others haven't commented on previously!

Court System

Has the One Angry Arkie ever used the Court system for collections? Fort Smith has a great Court System for debt collection and some really good attorneys if he is being truthful or is this just another smoke screen excuse?

would you rather

would you rather work for an out of state contractor who has been charged with paying out 2 million dollars in bribes and is 2 million dollars more expensive? I smell a strange odor coming from your comment because the local contractor built the Clarksville Water Park and the people love it! Have never heard any negative comments about the local contractor other than yours and will need a little more proof to verify your statement.

Let Me Spell It Out for Convivial

Convivial, not only did the city err when they worded the ballots and presented the initiatives in regards to the Aquatic Park, they erred in their due diligence. Call it arrogance or incompetence, but the taxpayers are the ones who suffer and pays for the mistakes. Like the convention center, public servants retire on the taxpayers dime, while the taxpayers are left to pay for the next group of servants. Sure, for some reason, city management allows $253,000 to go unpaid here, to spend $2.1 million in utilities to private property, leases a privately owned park, allow over $100,000 in unpaid loans to be forgiven, but can't budget what the voters approved. Who pays? In my opinion, it is the taxpayers and unlike other nearby growing cities where one person is elected and is responsible and accountable to the taxpayers, in Fort Smith, the taxpayers are left paying so much more for so much.
Convivial, not only did the city err when they worded the ballots and presented the initiatives in regards to the Aquatic Park, they erred in their due diligence. Call it arrogance or incompetence, but the taxpayers are the ones who suffer and pays for the mistakes. Like the convention center, public servants retire on the taxpayers dime, while the taxpayers are left to pay for the next group of servants. Sure, for some reason, city management allows $253,000 to go unpaid here, to spend $2.1 million in utilities to private property, leases a privately owned park, allow over $100,000 in unpaid loans to be forgiven, but can't budget what the voters approved. ...>> Read the entire comment.