Fort Smith directors approve demolition of two buildings, upgrade city software and water line capacity for Consent Decree

FORT SMITH – City managers unanimously approved several items related to derelict buildings, expanding businesses, the deployment of new software technology and sewerage projects during a meeting Tuesday.

The directors authorized the city manager to demolish two dilapidated buildings.

In a memo from Jimmie Deer, the superintendent of building services, to City Manager Carl Geffken, Deer said the buildings at 723 S. 18th St. and 1922 Pryor St. had been damaged and/or derelict for several years. He said the building security department had declared the buildings unsafe, unsightly, unsanitary and harmful to the public welfare and in violation of city ordinances.

The memo says the property owners were notified and took no action. Therefore, Deer asked the directors to order the buildings to be demolished if they were not repaired within 30 days.

Directors also endorsed Owens Corning Non-Woven Technology’s participation in the tax refund program.

A memo to Geffken from Assistant City Administrator Jeff Dingman explains that the city was asked by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce on behalf of Owens Corning to participate in the tax refund program. He said it is a state and local program that allows new or expanding businesses to claim refunds of sales taxes paid on building materials, new equipment and other eligible expenses incurred as a result of construction and/or expansion.

Dingman said Owens Corning plans to spend $24.5 million on building improvements and machinery and equipment to support its new coating line technology at its 5520 Planters Road facility. He said the expansion will create 50 jobs with an average wage of $32 an hour.

Directors approved two items relating to city software and support services: an ordinance amending the 2022 budget and approving spending from the available general fund balance and a $769,310 software license and services agreement with N. Harris Computer Corp.

A memo to Geffken from heads of Planning and Zoning, Building Security, Neighborhood Services, City Clerks and Parks Management said they plan to use the company’s software called CityView for planning and zoning, business and professional licensing, building security, neighborhood services and cemetery management use .

The memo says that customer service will be improved by enabling full functionality online, and it will allow city employees to provide real-time information, reports and photos while conducting on-site visits and inspections. CityView costs an additional annual fee of $134,236 and will be implemented over two years beginning in January with licensing and planning and zoning, followed by building security and neighborhood services, and finally the city recorder.

Maggie Rice, director of planning and zoning, said the schedule was requested by employees because they didn’t have the manpower to implement everything at once while also handling a regular workload.

“But as far as a solution goes, I believe, like all of us, that it meets the needs, making the staff as efficient as possible while still providing the customer service that we want to provide and the experience a citizen and customer want “Rice said.

“We keep all records for Oak Cemetery. Currently everything about Oak Cemetery is still done by hand and this will accommodate a website for our cemetery. This will also allow individuals to shop online, which they cannot do now, so it will be an asset to the city,” added City Clerk Sherri Gard.

Finally, Directors approved a second change order for Goodwin & Goodwin to install a dry submersible pump at Pumping Station #6. The change order adds 248 additional construction days and a cost increase of nearly $449,000.

A memo from Utility Director Lance McAvoy to Geffken explained that directors had approved the pump project in August 2021 and the department was approaching the board to buy new pumps rather than repair the old, obsolete ones. The first change order was approved in November 2021 for an additional 84 days to complete the contract and deliver the material.

The memo said the utilities department has been bypassing pumps since the station was damaged by the May 2019 flood, and the wear and tear on the department’s pumps makes failures and overflows more likely. The second change order is to reimburse the contractor for unforeseen pumping costs as well as the additional cleaning of the pump well; the movement and backflow preventer for the water pipe; and the anticipated upgrades needed to improve water accessibility.

McAvoy informed directors that the supply department was experiencing significant delays on several projects.

“And it’s not because of any of the contractors. This is due to the fact that meter boxes are 36 weeks in advance to give just one example. We gave up and ordered earlier and we got these delivered within two to three weeks. They’re out 36 to 42 weeks now,” McAvoy said.

General manager Kevin Settle asked McAvoy if the city would do this work if it weren’t for the 2019 flood.

McAvoy said it shortened the timeline for the project to start, but it would have done the same amount of work. He said the capacity expansion has to happen at some point and the supply department is trying to save some money by doing it now.

McAvoy said the project is related to the city’s canal permit decree because the decree calls for more capacity.

The city signed the decree in January 2015 with the U.S. Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Arkansas Division of Environmental Quality. Under the decree, Fort Smith agreed to repair and modernize its sewage system after decades of dumping sewage on waterways, including the Arkansas River.

The city agreed to spend more than $200 million over the next 12 years to improve its sewerage system and treatment.

The original deadline for the decree was January 2, 2027, but the city said it could not afford to complete all the work by that date and was granted a five-year extension.

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