Due to a federal consent decree on the wastewater, significant upgrades are needed, and locals in the surrounding areas may have to help eat the cost. But it’s not only the wastewater side that needs some help.
“One thing we know we need to do is replace a 100-year old 27 inch in diameter water transmission line,” said City Administrator for Fort Smith Carl Geffken.
Geffken said the estimates for these projects before the pandemic were $70 million; however, due to supply issues it’s now looking like it will cost $140 million. But the updates can’t wait.
“We will do our best, but we have people moving here, we have business coming here so that sets the timeline which we need to complete our work,” said Geffken.
To find out how locals feel about the possibility of a utility increase, we made our down to Fort Smith. They were more understanding than you would have guessed.
“I’m glad that Fort Smith can provide their own water. It’s going to suck that water bills are going up, but in the long run, we will have better facilities and manufacturers for the water,” said local Breanna Drake.
Geffken said while raising water bills as much as 30% is an option, it is not the only one they’re looking at.
“We don’t need to just rely on rates that we charge our ratepayers; there are grants and infrastructure money. For example, the ARP money the city is receiving,” said Geffken.
The City will receive more than $21 million over the next 12 months from ARP, and the plan is to spend the vast majority on our water system.
Geffken acknowledges a utility increase would be less than ideal, especially for a population already doing what they can to make ends meet in the middle of a pandemic.