|Mayors speak to the ‘State of the Valley’|
|September 20, 2013 Jerry Purvis|
Scottsbluff Mayor Randy Meininger raised some concerns about the area on Wednesday during the annual State of the Valley luncheon, sponsored by the Scottsbluff-Gering United Chamber of Commerce.
Meininger started by outline some of the construction and other improvement projects the city has recently completed and others that are slated for the next fiscal year. But then he shared results from a legislative economic study of the area. He said a lot of people from the entire region would need to get involved to turn those indicators around.
State Sen. John Harms helped put the study together on how District 48 compares to the rest of the state. The original 2011 report from the Legislature’s Planning Committee is scheduled to be updated in 2014. The author was University of Nebraska-Omaha economist Jerry Deichert.
The report shows that District 48, which covers most of Scotts Bluff County, is the eighth lowest in median household income. “That’s not a good place to be,” Meininger said. “We’re also the 14th highest in the state for population over 65. And we’re about 10th for kids at below 185 percent of poverty.”
For people age 25 and older, the district is the 10th lowest for high school and GED graduates. In the same age group, the district is 19th lowest for those who have earned a bachelor’s degree.
“We have an older population and our income and education isn’t where it should be,” Meininger said. “That has to change or we won’t be able to attract new businesses to the area.”
Mayor Meininger said was also confident those statistics can be improved if leaders from around the region pull their heads out of the sand and work together toward viable solutions.
Gering Mayor Ed Mayo also spoke at the State of the Valley, highlighting some of the project completed or in the works for the city.
The first topic Mayo covered was improvements to the city’s energy efficiency. The power lines along U Street and two other smaller streets are now completely buried.
The city also wants to upgrade its electrical system from four to 12 kilovolts. “The energy savings on that will be phenomenal,” Mayo said. “We should be able to eliminate two or possible three of our substations, eliminating maintenance costs on those as well.”
Mayo added the new LED street and traffic lights in town are also helping reduce electric costs.
Mayo also touched on downtown revitalization, starting with the demolition of the derelict McKinley school building, which made room for new residential housing to be built in the neighborhood.
To help address the problem of substandard properties, the city council authorized the formation of the Public Resolution Team (PRT), which handles zoning and other ordinance complaints.
“PRT helps soften the blow between the city and property owners who might have let their places fall into disrepair,” Mayo said. “Their job is to help clean up and revitalize our community.”
“Another topic is the downtown redevelopment program we’re currently involved with,” he said. “We’ve received grants to help us develop ideas of what’s needed to revitalize the downtown area.”
Public safety was another area Mayo talked about. The Gering Volunteer Fire Department will soon be setting up a training tower building where firefighters can train and improve their firefighting skills.
“Between the city and other grants, they have the necessary funding to build it,” Mayo said. “Several other firefighting agencies from around the area are also interested in supporting this and using the building for their own training exercises.”
He added the city would like to have proposals for building the facility returned by the end of the year. The fire department would like to have it ready by the summer of 2014, the department’s 100th anniversary. The police department will also be able to use the building for exercises involving barricaded suspects and SWAT operations training.
Another issue Gering faces is the approaching need to find a new landfill. A potential site has been identified east of Gering, but testing still needs to be done.
Mayo said that between single-stream recycling and possible waste-to-energy improvements in the future, the new site could become a regional landfill with a potential 100 year life expectancy.
Mayo also touched on the city’s new budget, which goes into effect Oct. 1. The $33,024,775 budget is just under a half-percent increase over last year. Increases in property values have made it possible for the city to keep the mill levy steady at .29832. That number has remained the same for the past 10 years.
“Unfortunately, our utility rates are going up because of increased costs to us,” Mayo said.
Terrytown Mayor Kent Greenwalt also spoke at the State of the Valley luncheon. He outlined some of the business activity in the town. The former Gaslight building has been remodeled and will become the new offices for Monument Physical Therapy. Also, developer Terry Jessen is currently putting in some new buildings along the Scottsbluff-Gering Highway. And the former Chute 3 restaurant is reopening soon as the Kozy Keno Bar and Grill. In addition to the new business, keno funds help finance improvements for the town.
Another major project Greenwalt outlined was the city’s need to find a new source of potable water. Because of high arsenic levels, one of their wells has to be shut down, leaving a single well to provide water. The city continues to pursue options for a solution.
As part of the water project, Terrytown will be installing a metering system for its water early next year.
Mark Masterton, chairman of the Scotts Bluff County Commissioner, spoke prior to his address and said “we’ll talk about the future based on what we’ve done.” He added the format will be a bit different than previous years, as Jeopardy game show style answers were given, with attendees asking the questions.