Road to progress

If the road to success in Marion County was the road less traveled during 2015, it was only because the road and bridge department didn?t have enough gravel to make them passable. (So much for road and bridge humor.)

Actually, 2015 brought a variety of positive developments to our part on the prairie, even if the path was occasionally rockier than we?d prefer. With that in mind, following is our annual list of the Top 10 news stories for the year.

1. School funding. The six schools districts in the Free Press distribution area experienced a bumpy ride through 2015. Topeka?s ?block grant? plan did little more than block educational progress. Three school districts asked patrons to increase the local option budget to fill the potholes caused by financial mismanagement in Topeka. And they did.

2. County roads. The deteriorating condition of our rural roads was a recurring irritant for many whose livelihood depends on farming and ranching. It?s a complex problem that gets only muddier when the parties most affected seem to prefer confrontation over conversation.

3. Summer bargain. Between the city and local school district, Hillsboro residents witnessed six significant infrastructure projects this summer, ranging from a new elementary school playground to building new turn lanes at the intersection of Adams Street and U.S. Highway 56. Taking together, the six projects were valued at almost $1.2 million. But required only $266,680 in local taxpayer dollars, thanks to grants and private donations.

4. EMS mess. A few high-profile personnel changes in the county?s Emergency Medical Services department generated concerns late in the year. We don?t need to know all the details that contributed to the turmoil, but we?re hopeful the involvement of outside advisers will restore public confidence in the department?s future.

5. Hospital help. The Hillsboro City Council?s recent decision to support construction of a new facility for Hillsboro Community Hospital to the tune of $1.305 million in bonds is a bold one. If the company that owns the hospital has the integrity of its local staff, the risk will reap rewards.

6. Fine arts promise. Construction on the $10 million Shari Flaming Center for the Performing Arts didn?t begin this fall, as Tabor College officials had hoped, but what?s another couple of months after 35 years of anticipation?

7. Goessel?s golden girls. Coach Crysta Guhr and her Bluebird volleyball team not only won the Class 1A-Division I state title this fall, they completed the season without a loss at 44-0. Remarkable, but look out: A similar lineup of girls is currently undefeated in basketball and ranked second in the state.

8. Bluejay bonanza. Early in 2015, the Tabor men?s and women?s basketball team won the conference title and competed at nationals. In spring, the baseball team accomplished a similar feat. In fall, the football team completed an undefeated KCAC season and qualified for the national playoffs. As 2015 comes to an end, both Tabor basketball teams are undefeated in the KCAC.

9. Renewable energy. Under the leadership of Mayor Todd Heitschmidt and City Administrator Roger Holter, Marion city government seems charged with new vision. Despite the demise of the local Chamber of Commerce at the end of 2015, the future looks bright there.

10. Farming follies. The good news: timely rains contributed to above-average harvests for wheat, corn and soybeans in 2015. The bad news: declining grain prices will limited the financial benefit for all businesses that depend on the ripple effect ag income. Which is pretty much all of us.

May the gravel support our wheels as we travel through the new year. ?DR