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Drive-thru project for utility funded

FORT SMITH -- The Fort Smith Board of Directors approved a resolution Tuesday authorizing the use of no more than $76,000 in capital improvement funds for the initial purchase and setup of technology and security equipment to operate a temporary drive-thru utility payment facility.

During its regular meeting, the board approved authorizing the mayor to execute a lease agreement with Next-Gen Development Partners LLC for the 12-month lease of the temporary facility, located at 524 Garrison Ave., on July 7. It will give residents a new way to pay for water and wastewater services and allow for social distancing between the public and the city staff in light of the covid-19 pandemic. Aug. 1 was the date of the lease.

City Utility Director Lance McAvoy wrote in a memo that though the property owner made many of the repairs to the drive-thru, several other upgrades, including the computer, communication, security and tube systems, are the city's responsibility. These upgrades were developed as a project to help with both tracking the funds spent and expediting possible reimbursement to the city from FEMA and/or the CARES Act. The project was set up to be paid out of the utility department's 6505 Capital Improvement Fund account.

"In the haste to bring the drive-thru online, the utility management failed to bring the request for the use of these funds to the Board of Directors for their approval," McAvoy wrote. "This error was discovered when the finance and utility departments were working to pay invoices for the project. City administration was notified once the error was discovered and sought permission to continue the project until the request could be brought to the board for their official approval."

Payment services contract approved

FORT SMITH -- The Fort Smith Board of Directors approved a resolution authorizing the mayor to execute a contract with the Tulsa-based U.S. Payments LLC for bill payment services.

In a memo, City Utility Director Lance McAvoy wrote that using payment kiosks will continue the utility department's effort in providing multiple customer service options and safe ways to pay utility bills. U.S. Payments has 10 kiosks located in Fort Smith that provide bill payment options for Oklahoma Gas & Electric, Arkansas Oklahoma Gas, Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative and Cox Communications with more than 9,500 bill payments being the monthly average on them.

More than 50% of the utility department's consumer base prefers "the convenience and immediacy of traditional and in-person bill payments," according to McAvoy.

"These customers might have limited access to technology, credit cards and debit cards, making online bill payments impossible," McAvoy wrote. "Payment kiosks allow customers to make bill payments at times that are convenient for them. Self-service payment kiosks are a useful tool in offering a broad range of options to customers, no matter how they prefer to pay."

The U.S. Payments service contract includes kiosk payment options using cash, check, or debit or credit card, McAvoy wrote.

Change to grant agreement passes

FORT SMITH -- A resolution authorizing the execution of the first amendment to a grant administration agreement among the city, the Arkansas and Missouri Railroad, and the Western Arkansas Planning and Development District received approval of the Fort Smith Board of Directors.

The board approved authorizing the mayor to execute this tri-party agreement on July 21. The purpose of this, according to Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman in a memo, was the administration of a 2018 Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant to "facilitate specific railway improvement projects."

The amendment, Dingman wrote, is meant to make clear that maintenance and upkeep of the grant-funded improvements is the Arkansas and Missouri Railroad's sole responsibility during the 20-year period the grant requires.

Board moves date of Nov. 3 meeting

FORT SMITH -- The Fort Smith Board of Directors voted to adopt an ordinance changing the date of its Nov. 3 regular meeting.

City Clerk Sherri Gard wrote in a memo that Ward 3 City Director Lavon Morton expressed concern during the board's Sept. 8 study session with the Nov. 3 meeting being held on the same date as the 2020 general election. He offered a motion to place an item on the agenda for Tuesday's meeting to reschedule to Nov. 10, which won the support of At-Large Position 6 Director Kevin Settle.

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