Homeless, tracks, animal control efforts are part of Fort Smith’s budget review – talkbusiness.net | Gmx Pharm

The Fort Smith Board of Directors added a few items to its budget goals for the coming year, including a focus on trails and parks, the 188th’s new mission, water fees and the city’s homelessness problem, among other things during the mid-year budget review, which is scheduled for Wednesday took place (July 27).

The board holds meetings annually to guide the city’s direction, City Administrator Carl Geffken said.

“We want to come out of this with two or three key goals set by the board. In recent years, increases and replacements of police department equipment have been targets that have resulted from this,” Geffken said. “As the city grew and additional revenue was raised, that tight budget was healed. Currently, with the expansion and growth of sales tax revenue, we have much more leeway. And the departments managed the budgets very well, resulting in a record balance.”

Directors Lavon Morton and Jarred Rego mentioned a need for funding to enforce the Code. Rego said he would like to see funding for additional staff to enforce the code. Morton went a step further and said he would like the city to take a closer look at abandoned homes or lots to see what can be done to stop the eyesore on the city’s landscape.

“I’m talking about those that are obviously abandoned and have been for some time, those with plywood over the windows. I don’t know the appropriate period – one year, two years, five. Whatever is best to take care of these (long-abandoned properties),” Morton said.

Rego said one of his other goals for the board is to develop a comprehensive plan to complete the city’s hiking trails within the next five to eight years. Director Neal Martin added that he would like to see improvements to the city’s existing parks.

“We worked without upgrades for a long time. We need to focus on that and spice up our parks,” said Martin.

HOMELESS PROBLEM, MILITARY LINK
Several board members raised the need for funding to focus on the city’s ever-growing homeless population. Suggestions ranged from finding best practices in other cities that have successfully addressed the issue to hiring someone whose primary focus would be homelessness.

“I agree with the proposal for a homeless coordinator. We’re not going to win this fight, and I’m sure there are model cities out there that can. I’m interested in seeing a difference, so we’ll be more involved by this time next year,” said director Robyn Dawson.

Directors Kevin Settle, Rego and Morton said the city, along with someone who could lead the city’s efforts on the homeless issue, might consider hiring a liaison to work with the city and the military and those working at involved in the planned Foreign Military Sales (FSM). program at Fort Smith.

Ebbing Air National Guard Base at Fort Smith, home of the 188th Wing, was selected in 2021 as the long-term pilot training center supporting F-16 and F-35 fighter jets purchased from Singapore, Switzerland and other participating Federal Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. The tentative schedule calls for Ebbing to receive the Singapore F-16 in 2023 and the F-35 in 2025. It is estimated that the center would house 345 US service members and bring more than 180 members of the Singapore unit to Ebbing or Selfridge and around 300 dependents. A final decision by the Air Force on the location of the training center is still pending.

Rego suggested that perhaps a former or retired military man from the city could help work with the Department of Defense and industry.

“We must support the 188th mission and the new mission of the F-35. When we bring new people into this city, we have to do whatever it takes,” Settle said. “It’s the state’s project. … I’m willing to make any effort for that.”

POLICE, FIRE, ANIMAL PROTECTION
Consensus was also to focus on supporting the police and fire services. Rego said he would like to see police and firefighter salaries funded to bring their salaries to “the highest salaries in Arkansas” at some point in the future. Director George Catsavis said he would like to see animal control shifted from the Fort Smith Police Department to a private company or non-profit organization to free up more officers for patrol or other purposes.

Geffken said there are talks of moving animal inspection services to Fort Smith Animal Haven.

“They’re going to present a contract to the board, and the board can decide,” Geffken said. “It’s still something we pay for, we would just shift the posts and funding from the police department.”

Other featured goals include work on flooding on the north side of the city; look at water prices, supply and infrastructure; Consider raising wholesale prices for water that Fort Smith makes available to other cities; how to support the city’s growing universities (both the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith and the Arkansas Colleges for Health Education); expand Ben Geren and Parrot Island offerings; and additional air travel from Fort Smith.

“It would also be nice if we could get some partnerships or sponsorships that could make the (indoor sports complex) possible,” Martin said. “I envision a riverside sports complex with a Branson Landing-style shopping/dining district that could roll into the US Marshals Museum. All of these things kind of get put together and it becomes a destination where VAT money starts to grow.”

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