Capital improvements pushing forward in Marion

As we begin 2019 I am excited about several capital improvement projects that will be crossing the finish line. One of the projects has been in the planning process for over three decades. In the next few weeks, weather permitting, construction will begin on the downtown improvement project. New sidewalks, curbs and guttering, period lighting, and handicap building entrances will be among the major improvements to the historic downtown area. My deepest thanks to those residents, community and government leaders, and city staff for making this revitalization project a reality.

Main Street west from approximately Walnut Street to the city limits will be milled and overlaid in 2019. Main Street serves as Kansas State Highway 256. This designation allows cost sharing between the city and the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) which keeps the cost low for the city’s portion of the project.

Also this year we will be replacing windows, repairing windows and repairing the city building roof and the community center roof. These facilities have gone years without major repairs. That’s generally because our staff works diligently at maintaining the public’s property. However, the age of these facilities, time and weather have taken their toll on these buildings. We so appreciate the partnership the city has with the Marion Advancement Campaign, Inc. (MAC) in raising private funds, volunteer labor, and design expertise to make the Marion Community Center a great venue for public and private events. We look forward to a community open house to showcase these wonderful improvements.

One of the biggest ventures the city has attempted, as far as scope and cost, is the waterline replacement project to being in 2019. This project will replace approximately 1/3 of the water lines in the city at an estimated cost of $4,200,000. Many of the waterlines being replaced are between 50 and 75 years old (and some older) which is well past their initial expected life. While we have applied for the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Kansas Department of Commerce (KDOC) grants we were unsuccessful in obtaining these grants to help fund this project. The project will be founded with a low-interest loan from USDA. This is a case in which you get penalized for doing things right. Our grants were denied because our city staff has been able to keep our water quality high with generally no Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) quality standard violations for several years. While this proves that your city council, city administrator, and city department heads have efficiently and effectively managed the city’s budget and utility budgets, it is nonetheless unfortunate in today’s federal and state grant writing setting that grant awards go not just to communities who need the support but to those who cannot properly manage their communities. While I am extremely disappointed that we did not receive any grants for this project, I am pleased that we will be able to do this must needed project on our own. We all will be faced with higher monthly water costs but I know we will be pleased with the end result.

Portions of the remaining two-thirds of the waterlines will also have to be replaced eventually. As we begin our budget process for 2020, we also look at 5, 10, 20, 30, and 40 years in the future. The loan interest loan on the new water project is for 40 years. We will not be able to wait 40 years to begin the next phase of waterline replacements. That is 10 mayoral elections away and 20 city council elections away. As with all of our capital improvement projects and funding for those projects, our city administrator and council are constantly reviewing the past to better plan for the future. Having been on council and mayor for over six years, I have found how difficult it is to try and “move the needle” or “turn a ship on a dime” based on the previous actions and decisions of our predecessors and with a finite or limited number of dollars. It is, however, worth the effort to try and do so. I am proud of our staff and council and the actions and decisions we have made to better prepare our city for generations to come.