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FORT SMITH -- City directors Tuesday approved ordinances forming two committees, one to provide information on the duties of a public facilities board that would be established if voters pass a temporary sales tax for the U.S. Marshals Museum, and the other to provide guidance on the city's recycling program.

The Public Facilities Board Advisory Committee, approved by a 5-2 vote, would be a temporary committee that will review and recommend the roles and responsibilities of a public facilities board created for administration of public funds and publicly owned property, according to the enacting ordinance.

The public facilities board will be formed if voters approve a nine-month, 1 percent sales tax that would provide about $15.5 million to allow the U.S. Marshals Museum, a private nonprofit corporation, to complete the 50,000-square-foot museum on the banks of the Arkansas River.

If the tax passes, the advisory committee will cease to exist when sales tax collections begin in July. If the tax fails, the advisory committee will not be formed.

Election day on the proposed tax is March 12. Early voting began Tuesday.

An outspoken opponent of the tax, Fort Smith attorney Joey McCutchen, called the advisory committee another layer of bureaucracy to insulate city directors from answering questions. McCutchen said that if the tax passes and the museum still fails, the residents of Fort Smith would likely be responsible for the museum's financial obligations.

City Director Keith Lau voted against the ordinance because he said there was a risk the Public Facilities Board Advisory Committee could somehow tie the city to the museum if it failed.

City Director George Catsavis, who has opposed the museum tax, also voted against forming the advisory committee.

Museum officials asked city directors to put the tax question before voters because donations dried up and there was not enough money to pay for development of the exhibit experience inside the museum. The museum was able to raise the $19.1 million cost of constructing the building, which began in July.

If the tax passes, the public facilities board would buy the museum building and grounds from U.S. Marshals Museum Inc. for the price of the sales tax revenue generated over the life of the tax.

While the public facilities board would own the property, the museum would lease and operate the facility and be responsible for its operating costs.

The other ordinance, for the Recycling Advisory Committee, was approved unanimously by the directors. It will have seven members who will advise the city's Sanitation Department and board of directors on recycling issues and policies, including whether to establish a city-owned recycling facility.

The formation of the committee comes after public criticism started in 2017 about how city officials handled the loss of a recycling vendor in 2014. Without a company to take the city's recycling, the Sanitation Department continued to collect customers' recyclable material using the city's recycling trucks, but it dumped the material in the landfill.

Sanitation customers were not informed for 2½ years that the recyclable material they continued to separate out and wheel to the curb each week was not being recycled.

That led one sanitation customer, Jennifer Merriott, to file a class-action lawsuit against the city in Sebastian County Circuit Court. It accuses the city of charging fees for services residents didn't get and unjustly enriching itself. A trial on the lawsuit is pending.

State Desk on 03/06/2019

Print Headline: Fort Smith OKs panels for museum, recycling

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