Fort Smith to credit Van Buren $441,603 for 2012 water charges

story by Ryan Saylor

It was just 2011 when the city of Van Buren was refusing to pay a contested 2009 water charge of $253,000 to the city of Fort Smith. Since that time, it is now the city of Fort Smith that owes Van Buren more than $440,000 for water the city was overcharged in 2012.

According to Fort Smith Communications Manager Tracy Winchell, the cities of Fort Smith and Van Buren have a previously established agreement for rate adjustments, or a true up, that is evaluated at the end of each year.

Jeff Dingman, Fort Smith's deputy city administrator, said the amount of adjustment for 2012 would result in Fort Smith giving Van Buren an adjustment of $441,603. The amount, he said, would be spread out in credits to Van Buren of $36,800 during each of the next 12 months.

"Their (adjustment) for the year was about 11.5% of what their billing was," he said, adding that the city was charged about $3.048 million last year for water from Fort Smith's water supply.

Previous years have yielded much smaller adjustments once Fort Smith's utility department compares how much Van Buren was charged for water versus its usage. Information provided by Utilities Director Steve Park show an adjustment of $197,768 in Van Buren's favor in 2011 and another one of $30,884 in 2010.

The dispute in 2009 where Fort Smith said Van Buren owed $253,000 was eventually dismissed due to Fort Smith's failure to comply with contractual obligations with regard to the bill, resulting in no adjustment to Van Buren's 2009 bill.

Prior to the 2010 adjustment in Van Buren's favor, the city owed Fort Smith additional funds for using more water than it had been originally billed for as a wholesale customer — $124,721 in 2008, $129,227 in 2007 and $327,226 in 2006.

Winchell said the numbers show a basic truth about the water contract between both governments.

"At the end of the year, one almost always owes the other money," she said.

Dingman said the contract with Van Buren, it's only true up customer, and other wholesale water customers could be up for discussions in the coming year or more.

"As we're working more toward the consent decree that will (demand more) of the city, we will need to go through all of our rate structures and sewer (rates). It will include revisiting how wholesale agreements with Van Buren and all other wholesale customers work."

Fort Smith has been under a consent agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice since the 1970s due to problems associated with wastewater runoff. A collection of projects to bring the city of Fort Smith into compliance with DOJ demands will see a final price tag once all is said and done, Dingman said in December 2013.


He said the consent decree, which is in the process of being negotiated with the DOJ, should be announced during the first quarter of 2014.

But as for the overage the city of Fort Smith will have to credit Van Buren during the next year, Dingman said $441,603 was not an overage.

"There's no discrepancy," he said. "It's just the way it works."

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getting Christied

an 11.5% overcharge is pretty major. don't they audit along the way. was there some kind of vindictive retribution last year after the true up fiasco? Ray?

Water Gate Waterloo

Nice! They don't pay us for using more water but we pay them for using less! Duh

how does this work exactly

was the water department told to overbill as a way for the city to interest it's money back?

Director Merry & water

Ok, so we are back with water bills and Fort Smith getting the short end of the stick. While I agree with paying VB back if its a correct calculation, I cannot help but remember the past debacle. Director Merry was the only one that kept asking and asking for information and an accounting on the lost $253K and he was repeatedly ignored and brushed off. Sometimes in not very nice ways. Director Merry, keep the fight alive and lets make sure its correct this time!

Mid year?

Why is there not a mid year true up? There should be some sort of calculation that can be easily done to determine what is owed atleast twice per year if not done quarterly. Over 400k is not acceptable when the total billings are just 3million or so. Figure out a calculation and fix this problem. This is getting out of hand. Sure off 10-20k, no problem, but 400k? Come on!

Its Is Fort Smith Matt

They missed the water park estimate by 33% or 3 million dollars and they thought it was normal and they forgot to bill you know who for 253,000 dollars for water and they forgot to collect the 150,000 loan of taxpayer money so mistakes are swept under the rug at city hall but if you or me made the same mistake, we would be hammered so it is what it is and what it is, is nonsense.

The way mine works is they're looking at the meter

within 60 days after I lower (not if I raise) my usage noticeably. Nevertheless it looks like FS has changed it to where it doesn't matter if they forget anymore.