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In his second State of the City address since taking his oath as mayor in May 2012, Bob Stephens Thursday highlighted enhancements in Springfield’s infrastructure, environment, and the city’s fiscal discipline; while cautioning citizens of the challenges ahead. KSMU’s Scott Harvey reports.
As part of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s Good Morning Springfield! program, the Mayor applauded the recent renewal by voters of the one-fourth cent capital improvements sales tax, noting the project’s success over the last three years.
“Over 50 miles of new sidewalks were laid, more than 100 miles of sidewalks were repaired, 25 miles of bike lanes were created, and over 2,000 new trees planted,” Stephens said.
And as infrastructure improves, so does water quality, Stephens said, revisiting the city’s lawsuit filed against the Environmental Protection Agency in 2011 challenging new federal rules related to storm water runoff. Shortly after a similar case in Virginia went against the EPA, the agency offered to withdraw their Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) requirement. Since then, directors of both the EPA Region VII and the Missouri DNR have been working with Springfield officials to redevelop new TMDLs.
“We’ve completed and submitted the framework for the integrated plan. And in fact, we have heard that anecdotally, both of them are speaking around the state and the region and pointing to what we in Springfield are trying to do. So we kind of take that as some level of buy-in on their part.”
The Mayor spoke of additional prospects from renewable energy, highlighting the methane gas that’s generated by the organic decomposition at the city's sanitary landfill north of town. By capturing the gas, City Utilities can supply enough power for 2,100 homes, according to Stephens. He says that methane-conversion process can also help heat a greenhouse as big as four acres.
The Mayor says the opportunities for public-private partnerships in this field are tremendous.
“As are the opportunities for fresh, locally-grown food to flow to our school cafeterias, and to food pantries in a way that does not compete with our local farmers,” he added.
In downtown Springfield, Stephens is confident that a future plan to open up Jordan Creek will help reduce the size of the flood plain in center city, plus make several buildings in the area more commercially desirable, as well as lower flood insurance premiums for some businesses.
Springfield City Council recently approval the budget for next year, which the Mayor called fiscally conservative, balanced, and did not tap into reserve funds. In fact, according to Stephens, the city’s reserve/rainy day fund, is now at the recommended 20 percent target of their $77 million general revenue budget.
Stephens touted the area’s 5.4 percent unemployment rate, down from 6 percent a year ago, and more than two percentage points below the national average.
But the Mayor did acknowledged both current and future issues in the city, noting that some of these items should be handled at the state and federal level, but instead are being forced on municipal governments all over the country. He says there will be a handful of issues brought before City Council over the next several months.
“The fallout from the referendum petition regarding our zoning ordinances, the so called Walmart zoning issue, the ongoing controversy regarding the lessening of penalties for misdemeanor possessions of marijuana, numerous recommendations from our Storm Water Task Force…”
He added that recommendations could also soon come down from the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Task Force, as well as the Animal Issues Task Force, which he says will likely generate conversation around the community.
Stephens admits these are not easy issues, and come at not-so-easy times, but that City Council has been “willing to deal with the tough issues.”
You can watch the Mayor’s full State of the City address here.
For KSMU news, I’m Scott Harvey.