New leadership bringing new vision

The city adopted a simplified design for its highway signs during 2014, as part of the city?s new outdoor marketing campaign. Free Press photo
The city adopted a simplified design for its highway signs during 2014, as part of the city?s new outdoor marketing campaign. Free Press photo

A lot can change in one year, but for the city of Marion, the transformation has affected the governing body and all departments.

According to Todd Heit?schmidt, Marion?s first-year mayor, last year?s growth was centered around ?signs of progress.?

?Those signs have grown to full blown energy and synergy as witnessed and articulated at a recent Chamber of Commerce meeting with guest speakers from BTI Energy, Greensburg,? he said.

According to one of the speakers, the city was described as having a strong energy that everyone could be proud of.

?That renewed energy in commitment, action and sense of community truly began with the elections in April of 2014,? Heitschmidt said. ?We witnessed a community, through our democracy, make a bold and sustained statement for change.?

Literally, in one day, Heitschmidt said the winds of change ushered in a majority shift in council members.

?Beyond these great councilors taking charge, we saw a ballot of choices unequalled in local elections for decades and far exceeding the numbers of candidates in the region,? he added.

Among the high points in 2014, Heitschmidt included:

? completion of street projects;

? opening of Ace Hardware;

? opening of Subway;

? completion of fundraising for Central Park restrooms and entertainment pavillion;

? completion of the Jex Addition sewer lines; and

? city?s reserves ending higher than projected.

Probably the biggest concern in 2014, he said, is the deterioration of the existing waterlines and streets.

Efforts by the city staff in 2014 has culminated in two major announcements in the past few weeks, Heitschmidt said.

?The first was the decision by Dollar General to locate a new store in the city?s industrial park, and the second, a new aerial sprayer in the area, who will be locating his base of operations at the Marion Airport.

?And led by the newly seated Marion City Council, the winds of change began?a strong and immediate expectation of local govern?ment is a business that exists to serve the citizens emerged,? he said.

Along with the council?s efforts, Heitschmidt said all the municipal employees were asked to shelve behaviors of the past and define ways to deliver a value-added message to the citizens they serve.

?The teams? commitment to deliver on this expectation has been amazing and was demonstrated in things like the recent 24/7–365-day website work order creation system and the January launch of the first curbside recycling program in the county.

Mayor Todd Heitschmidt
Mayor Todd Heitschmidt

Realistic assessment

?Like every solid business focused on customer service, a realistic assessment of all resources had to be completed early on,? Heitschmidt said.

For the city, this took on the form of a budget review and development process that was not previously experienced by the governing body, administration and department heads.

?Unfortunately, the review revealed that some projections of the past may have been slightly over optimistic, resulting in a re-examination of each department?s staffing and business model,? Heitschmidt said.

But to the credit of all involved, that renewed ?energy and synergy? quickly moved to the forefront.

Heitschmidt said actions took place to ensure the trajectory for the future was clearly anchored in fiscally responsible stewardship of the assets entrusted to government.

?This spirit of cooperation and ownership at all levels resulted in an improved path that has resulted in almost a $1 million improvement over the initial projec?tions from the adopted budget,? he said.

?Energy and synergy of the governing body then moved to creating a sustainable plan for the future,? he said. ?For the first time, a long-term, comprehensive planning process created by the community for the community was undertaken.?

The visioning project is seen as an ongoing process with actions initiated along the way to support the wants and needs of citizens by providing a safe, secure, faith-based community that affords the future generations a solid foundation for success and growth, according to Heitschmidt.

?While true synergy of thought has changed the way the governing body leads the community,? he said, ?we will continue to analyze each aspect of the organization and community at an individual level.?

In doing so, the city can ensure a solid return on the investment is achieved for each taxpaying citizen.

?Government?s responsibility first and foremost is to provide a safe and secure community,? he added.

Police department

The Marion Police Department made significant strides in moving law enforcement from a reactive organization to a proactive organization during the fiscal year.

?This cultural shift in the methodology resulted in increased cases while lowering the overall operating costs of the department by 7.5 percent,? Heitschmidt said.

?Through their actions, the police have become the premier law enforcement agency in the county based on overall cases for the year.?

Heitschmidt said the city?s police department exceeded all other agencies by more than 25 percent.

The efforts of the police department was led by the K-9 team of Sgt. Michael Stone and his dog, Legion, logging more than 90 cases for the year, Heitschmidt said.

?Their dedication made a very real and impactful deterrent to illegal substance use and trafficking in the county and surrounding region,? he added. ?This has been an amazing accomplishment when considering the team is a new relationship with only eight months together and Legion?s young age of 1 year old.?

Accidents have been reduced as well because of the increased traffic ordinance enforcement efforts, he said. Non-injury accidents are down 26 percent from the 2012 levels, and down to 31 from 42 just two years ago.

Based on this revised patrol regiment, the police department has increased traffic-related citations by 124 percent and reduced vehicle operating expenses by 18 percent, he said.

?Most encouraging is the growth in community-wide engagement in the sharing of information and community policing activities,? Heitschmidt added. ?Logged police interaction with citizens with regard to sharing of actionable information has increased from 11 in 2012 to 71 in 2014.

?An amazing 600+ percent increase that has resulted in the successful execution of multiple search warrants,? Heitschmidt said.

The impact on illegal substance and alcohol use in the community was dramatic, Heitschmidt said, resulting in 92 arrests for the year as compared to 22 in 2012.

Public works

The public works and utilities in 2014 took on some of the largest and most extensive projects in Marion?s recent history, according to Heitschmidt.

While providing support for infrastructure improvement projects such as street projects and the Jex sewer project, the teams worked with developers to allow some long-awaited projects to be completed.

?The Homestead Affordable Housing Victory Plaza project and the September 1 remodel projects crossed the finish line and are now rapidly filling with new tenants,? Heitschmidt said.

?Based on the success and mutual support by the municipal team and the developer, Homestead Affordable Housing will be increasing its involvement and support by taking over the September II facility.?

In addition, there are plans for the development of an additional project with the USD 408 Building Trades class lead by Lucas King.

A crew from Hett Construction pours concrete to replace a block of Third Street near the Marion County Courthouse in early 2014. This project was one of several projects the city took on during the year to improve local infrastructure. Free Press file photo
A crew from Hett Construction pours concrete to replace a block of Third Street near the Marion County Courthouse in early 2014. This project was one of several projects the city took on during the year to improve local infrastructure. Free Press file photo

Electrical department

The city?s electrical department has received recognition regarding several underground service installations, Heitschmidt said.

The department also received ?exceptional praise? from the installation company for the solar field project in the city?s industrial park for Spur Ridge Vet Clinic.

?A major accomplishment for 2014 was the certification of the Marion Levee system from (the Federal Emergency Management Agency),? Heit?schmidt said. ?While like most public works projects, it is not glamorous, but results in direct benefits to our citizens in safety and security.?

Because of those efforts, the residents and businesses located in the valley portion of town are protected, and not required to insure their property through the National Flood Insurance program.

The crews, he said, have also undertaken a project to revamp the outdoor marketing campaign for the city.

?The crews are currently 80 percent complete on the launch of the new logo and available services billboards throughout Marion and Chase County,? he said.

More improvements are also being discussed and made possible through support and cooperation with the Marion Advancement Campaign and the Marion County Power Ups group.

?Central Park is and will always be the showcase part of our city,? he said. ?With the funding secured for the restroom and stage project, construction has already begun on this wonderful addition to Central Park.?

Completion is expected before Chingawassa Days scheduled the first full weekend of June.

Eric Gunderson, a member of Love & Theft, the featured band at last summer?s Chingawassa Days Saturday night concert, performs for the crowd. Chingawassa Days has developed a tradition of bringing in well-known groups. Free Press file photo
Eric Gunderson, a member of Love & Theft, the featured band at last summer?s Chingawassa Days Saturday night concert, performs for the crowd. Chingawassa Days has developed a tradition of bringing in well-known groups. Free Press file photo

Economic development

Synergy and energy are not more apparent than in the economic development activities, and according to Heitschmidt, momentum is the key factor driving the city?s economic development activities in 2014.

?Retail trade began our initial growth with the very successful launch of the Marion County Ace Hardware store in our business park,? he said. ?Our national franchise for Subway opened exceeding expectations and projections.

?These two companies led the way for continued growth which is coming together with the commitment to come to our community from the Dollar General corporation.?

Heitschmidt said it was with ?extreme gladness? the city shared in the effective succession plan put into place for the transition of ownership of the hometown pharmacy.

Because of the energy and synergy in the community, the successful transition of Butler Community College to a new location was realized.

?The move will better serve their students as well as supporting the sustainable business model for higher education in rural communities,? he said.

The former location for BCC, the Bown Corby school building, will be made into needed apartments for a specific niche in the local market.

Heitschmidt said he and the council are encouraged by the resurgence of remodeling and redevelopment of residential properties in the city.

In addition to the many improvement and accomplishments, Heitschmidt said he has had the honor of recognizing a number of city volunteers and staff for their efforts and many years of contributions to the community.

?Dedicated volunteers, committed city staff, and community financial donors are doing what it takes to position Marion for a prosperous future,? he said.