By Mayor Dawn McNay
On behalf of the City of Pittsburg and my fellow Commissioners, Good Morning.
As Kathleen shared, our history is one of facing adversity with grit and resilience.
As in those times, our community was asked to come together and face an unexpected challenge, one that is still with us, the COVID-19 virus. And, we have come together…
Beginning in early March, our medical community began daily calls to assess our readiness and response. Those calls have continued, even now, to lead us through this virus; working together to open schools and keep businesses viable. We are not at the end of this journey, but we can confidently say that we are a model for how the healthcare, education and governmental entities work together to keep citizens informed and schools open.
Our leaders have reached outside their comfort zone and come to the camera with frequent updates on city services, medical information on the virus and how to keep businesses safe to operate and access Federal and state financial resources.
Support for our business community came from your City government with revisions in ordinances to extend serving areas and in a remarkable way from our citizens, supporting any business that found creative ways to be open.
We could say there were many random acts of kindness, but they were not random. The kindness is a result of a community that is connected and understands that there is always a need to help others. Like, our faith community providing students meals during spring break, the Lord’s diner continuing to serve, the library providing families a connection to the outside world through the bookmobile, the many meals provided to the ER staff, police and fire, and the loads of coffee from anonymous donors to Community Health and The Family Resource Center.
Your City Government made the conscious decision not to lose momentum, knowing that stopping would make it harder to get going again. So, road crews continue to improve our streets, helped along with less cars on the roads, our law enforcement responded to an increase in calls, City administration made the tough calls to close the pool, cancel the fireworks to keep us safe. The City Commission having to limit the number attending our meetings, but provided avenues to continue public input.
All of this work and effort is allowing our City to combat the effects of the virus in a proactive way – not reactive – to not surrender – but to build that resiliency and capacity for full recovery by working together.
Many of you know that my family is working on our own resilience with the death of my husband in June. However, we are not alone in dealing with uncertainty during this time. We have citizens that are dealing with severe health issues, loss of a job, loss of home/place to sleep, food insecurity.
So, why does your City fight so hard for housing, infrastructure, education, economic health, public wellness, and to communicate? Because when we say “Forward Together,” we mean “Forward TOGETHER!” We have to have a firm financial foundation based on diversity in business and Pittsburg NEEDs planned growth. Crawford County is the only county in Southeast Kansas predicted to grow in the next decade.
Two comprehensive housing studies have provided the data that many of us already know. A house to make a home is the foundation for quality of life.
Our housing stock needs to be replenished – as a result, you saw the implementation of the Land Bank. Since 2019, 31 lots have been sold; we will close 2020 with 30 new homes built within existing neighborhoods moderately priced between $70,000 and $140,000.
The housing market in 2019 was rockin’ with 551 houses sold in our area, an increase of 19%. Our local realtors say that due to low interest rates, housing sales have continued and there was no shut down for them – they masked up and sold houses.
To support business growth and attract individuals that work in Pittsburg but live elsewhere, we need planned new housing developments, such as Silverback Landing and Creekside East. Tucked away throughout our community is other new housing, Higginbotham Properties, Dennett Properties, Payton’s Hamlet, and the Leland Lofts.
Pittsburg’s Housing Department continues to support those that need assistance to live in a safe, affordable place by helping over 500 families through various funding sources this past year.
That firm financial foundation, growing our tax base, depends on improving and increasing our housing options for all income levels. Your City leaders are committed to this and committed to engaging citizens in the process.
It is easy to judge our town by the quality of our streets. Do we have good connection between productive places? Our road crew addressed over 60 miles of road over the past 21 months. Street maintenance is important and constant – what should you expect in road management – you should expect a plan based on data addressing the connectivity within our community. You should expect an efficient method for sustainable repairs and you should expect that as we grow areas are not left isolated from public safety. Our proactive planning has allowed us to combine private funds and local and state resources to improve south Rouse, 20th and the bypass and the upcoming improvements to east Quincy and 4th street overpass. Just this week, Frontenac and Pittsburg collaborated to improve Atkinson. You can see the past and current accomplishments through the comprehensive interactive data on the City website, a way to keep you informed on your taxpayer dollars.
As a city commissioner, I now know more about storm and wastewater than I ever thought I would need to know. Water is a wily creature and managing its benefits and adverse effects requires diligence. We have enlisted consultants to help us evaluate how to address increased rainfall, an aging stormwater system and planning for growth.
What is our collective responsibility to help the life our system? Keep grass clippings and standing water out of our shared streets, don’t flush baby wipes, or pour chemicals solvents and paint down the drains and sewers. Please seek options at SEK Recycling Center for those items.
The most significant infrastructure improvement we will see in the next five years will be the replacement of our 65-year-old wastewater plant. This is a 40-million-dollar project. Your city leaders are exploring all avenues to help mitigate the overall cost to taxpayers, but it is imperative we move forward.
According to the recent Pittsburg Micropolitan Area Economic Report, almost 480 million dollars have been invested in this City in the last five years, most of it private dollars. That investment has resulted in the creation of over 1,500 new jobs. Also noted is that Pittsburg as a regional center for retail sales and consumer services has acted as an economic buffer to decreased retail activity during this year.
The diversity of our business base has created resiliency and if we measure the impact of the COVID shutdown by the City’s revenue, it is encouraging. Currently, sales tax revenue is up 2.7% from last year. However, we are not so naïve to think that we can relax our fiscal diligence. Next year’s budget is built on a conservative platform recognizing a continued virus, honoring our goals of maintaining our reserves, and managing our debt. The foresight of City administration has allowed us, as an employer, to manage our health insurance costs without increasing premiums for our staff for the past six years.
Investment in local entrepreneurs continues with economic tax dollars supporting medical providers such as Dr. Jackie Youstsos Renu Medical & Spa facility and the fabulous building renovation that is now Riggs Chiropractic.
Our downtown area continues to benefit from the value of renovating existing buildings by CDL, Larry Fields and Alissa Rogge, with their investments totaling one million dollars. We welcomed the City’s only new car dealership, Mike Carpino Ford with an approved annexation request and incentive package to support a $250,000 renovation. Also breaking new ground in Pittsburg is the state’s first CDB oil processing facility. Sunflower Hemp is a $1 million project in the City’s northeast industrial park that will bring 10-15 new jobs to our community. Finally, a critical investment in our healthcare workforce is Community Health Center’s 6-million dollar clinical education facility to support the Family Medicine Rural Residency along with numerous other medical education programs. This project is projected to create 30 new jobs upon completion in 2022.
2019 saw record numbers in filled hotel nights. Understandably, this year’s numbers are down, but this year to date, numbers have exceeded those in 2016. In the words of Convention and Visitors Bureau Director, should all the events canceled this year be held in 2021 – we will pack 1.5 to 2 years of activity into 12 months, including the Four State Farm Show.
The City Commission’s decisions should reflect the needs and values of our community. To accomplish that, there are thirteen citizen advisory groups to provide perspective. For example, we can look to the Active Transportation Advisory Board for their work and recommendations that led to the sidewalk along Memorial drive. Participatory planning with over 500 citizens resulted in the Land Use Plan. A document that reflects the community’s values to guide current and future growth.
Prior to March, the momentum of the IP2030 citizen led planning process was energetic. Though community meetings could not happen this year, the executive committee continues to move forward the areas of need, such as expanding childcare access. Never underestimate the power of a single letter to the City identifying a problem to be solved. We now have 20 dog waste containers across our parks and trails.
The three months of COVID shutdown and continued precautions have made this spring feel, well there are a lot words that come to mind. It can be said that the best prescription during this time was our 14 parks, walking trails, golf course and tennis courts. Features like Kiddieland provided a lifeline for families to some sense of normal. Maintaining these spaces was a conscious decision by City administration recognizing the importance of these to the public wellness. We thank those employees that wore multiple hats to keep those areas viable. How fortunate we are to have local bicycle shops, hardware and landscape businesses that saw a busy spring.
We would be remis if we did not take a moment to acknowledge those individuals that kept our town going during those spring months. With hiring frozen and expenditures restricted, our City staff worked at reduced staffing levels, parks and rec staff maintained the parks, the utility department cleaned storm water drains and kept our water services running, our police and fire departments provided public safety services 24/7, and city hall maintained the momentum and managed the uncertain future.
Our healthcare workers went to work every day, finding ways to adapt to an unprecedented ever-changing situation. AND our schools; In the space of 15 days, our school districts set up remote learning for over 3,000 students. Hundreds of teachers created alternative ways of teaching. Over 85,000 meals were delivered by District bus drivers that clocked 54,025 miles over that time.
Even now, 75% of our K-12 teachers are teaching seated and remote students simultaneously. Did everything go perfectly? No. However, we learned and now the City, School District and Community Health are collaborating on grant to strengthen internet access for our families.
The return of university students was a challenge; PSU Administration came forward with a plan crafted in partnership with our Health Officers. As the expected surge showed up – we should be proud of our response – it was swift and comprehensive and to date has reduced the outbreak.
This pandemic taught your City to be nimble, to re-think and embrace a different way of doing business, to be open to individuals and businesses re-inventing themselves to be successful moving forward. Relationships all across our community are stronger; we have structure for ongoing communication and systems to respond to the unexpected. We never lost sight of what is most important – caring for one another.
A fiscally-sound city government allows us the capacity to implement programs that help our most vulnerable, such our partnership with The Center for the Family Response Advocates at the Police Department and our wonderful team in the Housing Department. It opens doors to new conversations, such as ways for area organizations can assist the police department to respond to our citizens that need help outside law enforcement.
What should our City’s goals be for next year coming out on the other side of this pandemic – continuing on our track to economic prosperity with new and expanded business, community pride and civic engagement, job creation, strong schools and working together.
Recently, our County Health Officers received the Spirit of Pittsburg award. We congratulate them, however it is the enduring spirit of today’s Pittsburg that has seen us through this uncharted territory and provides the grit and resilience to move us forward Together.
Thank you to the citizens of Pittsburg and the staff of the city, especially those who made today’s presentation possible.
If you are watching our program today, and you would like to access any of the data I’ve shared throughout this presentation, I encourage you to go to pittks.org/soc2020.