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TOOMEY: Changes don't happen overnight

When I ran for mayor of the city of Mitchell in 2014, there were three goals I wanted to focus on: Lake Mitchell improvements, Main Street revitalization, and infrastructure improvements. Throughout the past year and a half, I have come to realiz...

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When I ran for mayor of the city of Mitchell in 2014, there were three goals I wanted to focus on: Lake Mitchell improvements, Main Street revitalization, and infrastructure improvements. Throughout the past year and a half, I have come to realize that changes do not happen overnight; but the city has made progress on these primary goals.

Lake Mitchell improvements

Lake Mitchell was important goal because of the importance to our community. It provides a quality of life to our city and is a unique feature that sets our community apart. The condition of our lake has worsened over the years, and it appears to be continuing in that pattern. My goal was to try and identify the source of the problem, stop looking at Band-Aid approaches, and find a long-term fix. The community needs to work together to improve the condition of the lake for future generations. The lake has been identified by DENR as an "impaired lake" and the conditions will not improve without an active effort from our community to make changes. We know this is a two-part problem, phosphate entering the lake from the watershed as well as the phosphate leaching in from the bottom of the lake. This means we have a conservation problem and an engineering problem. To combat this, the city has approved working with FYRA engineering to develop an engineered solution to the lake condition. Throughout the next 12-18 months, two committees will be identifying solutions, communicating to the public what steps need to be taken to improve the lake condition, and identifying funding sources for those solutions. We know this will not be a quick fix, or an inexpensive fix; but I believe it is essential to move forward with improving our lake.

Main Street revitalization

Our Main Street is the heart of our city, all great cities have a great Main Street. The perception is that our Main Street is dying. We know, that our Main Street offers some unique services to our community and has the potential to be a destination for our community and visitors alike. The city has taken steps to improve two major components of Main Street, veterans park and the Sixth Avenue plaza. Veterans park is estimated to be a $225,000 project. My commitment to the community was that veterans park would be constructed without requiring city funds. The fact that the community has funded nearly all of this project in donations and with in-kind contributions shows our community's commitment to Main Street as well. The city will also begin work on phase I of the Sixth Avenue plaza, with a design ready to expand the plaza with more features as funding is identified. These improvements will be a spark plug for our Main Street development, tying both ends of Main Street together with these parks.

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Infrastructure improvements

Infrastructure needs continue to be addressed. The city is in the final phase of a $2.4 million improvement to our sewer infrastructure, which was an essential upgrade. The city is currently in the design phase to redo Sanborn Boulevard from Havens to 15th Avenue, which is a priority project and is expected to be a phased construction project that will begin in 2019. The completion of the Fifth Avenue, Rowley Street and Spruce Street projects improved transportation routes throughout our community. The city continues to put infrastructure improvements as a priority in the budgeting process.

Operational improvements

In addition to these major goals, the city continues to make operational improvements as well. Over the last year the city implemented a new website that allows for more transparency and more interaction between our citizens and city officials. I researched and proposed a completely revised and updated nuisance code ordinance, with assistance from our city attorney in writing up the final draft. The new ordinance is patterned after ordinances in other cities and gives our code compliance officer more authority in dealing with nuisance properties. The old ordinance was far too vague and made enforcement difficult, if not impossible.

Recently, I appointed members to a newly created committee - the Corn Palace Operational Committee. A committee of talented community leaders to look at all aspects of our Corn Palace operations, to come up with ideas to be more cost effective through better operational practices, and to reduce or eliminate waste. The committee will look at activities including staffing, concessions, entertainment, contracts, ticket sales, decorating, marketing, etc. I have already implemented one idea by skipping the re-do of Corn Palace murals for this year and it is something that we need to study and consider every other year since this is an annual expense of $166,000 and the cost continues to increase. It is not enough to simply say that "this is the way we've always done it." We cannot continue to require an annual tax subsidy of over $500,000 for the Corn Palace; the operational deficient needs to decrease. We have to start doing things differently and begin thinking outside of the box.

Another priority I wanted to accomplish this year was to have an operationally balanced budget. This was achieved for the first time in a good number of years. I attribute that accomplishment to my department heads and the sacrifices made by each and every one of them. If not for them and the hard work of City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein, this would not have been possible.

Looking ahead

As we start 2017, there are several things that we will be looking at in the months ahead. I would like to see a long-range strategic planning session with our City Council to develop a roadmap for the future. If we don't develop a roadmap, we may end up someplace where we don't want to be. I would also like the city to take a long hard look at retail development to keep tax dollars in Mitchell as well as stop "retail sales leakage." We need to increase our sales tax base since it is now "flat-lined" with minimal growth. This will also bring a natural benefit by helping with the revitalization of our Main Street efforts, by helping our Main Street retailers identify the expansion of consumer goods and services that are now being purchased elsewhere. I also look forward to presenting a "State of the City" this spring to highlight what has been accomplished so far, what financial goals and objectives we have, as well as an overview of what the community can expect to see happening for city projects in the near future.

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As always, I continue to be grateful to serve as mayor of Mitchell. I consider it to be an honor and privilege to serve the citizens of our great community.

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