Fort Smith has a $483 million price tag for some long overdue infrastructure problems, and the economic downturn caused by COVID-19 has made that bill even more painful. To make matters worse, the city is losing out on some valuable federal dollars because Governor Asa Hutchinson and Republican lawmakers failed to follow public health advice. Arkansas is one of the only states in the nation that failed to issue some type of shelter in place order.
“The consent decree requires the city to make an estimated $480 million worth of sewer upgrades over the course of 12 years. Funding for consent decree work has come in part from water and sewer bill increases, which are up 167% since 2015. Funding for water and sewer work also comes from bonds supported by sales tax revenue and revenue from wholesale water buyers.
City Director Lavon Morton on Tuesday asked Geffken if the city would get any relief on the timing of the consent decree because of the two major events beyond the control of the city in the past 12 months. Geffken said, no.
“We have put in the force majeure letter saying that the flood and COVID-19 is beyond our control. … We have been told that since the governor of Arkansas, Gov. (Asa) Hutchinson, did not declare a shelter in place that we are not eligible to receive any break,” Geffken said.
Morton was clear he is not happy with the federal decision.
“I’m sure all the other directors and the citizens of Fort Smith agree with me that it is absolutely shocking that we could go through the flood and COVID-19 and that a federal agency would not give us more time because you know we have lost a significant amount of time as a result of those two events,” Morton said Tuesday night.”
Arkansas Democrats have called for the state to follow public health advice since the start of the crisis. The early failure to adhere to common-sense best practices has led to a prolonged crisis for Arkansas families.