STATE OF THE CITY ADDRESS (DRAFT) RELEASED BY PITTSBURG, KANSAS MAYOR MICHAEL GRAY
Good morning fellow City Commission members, Patrick O’Bryan, John Ketterman, Monica Murnan and Chuck Munsell, City Manager Daron Hall, City staff, community business leaders, and members of the public.
I am excited about this opportunity to give you an update about the state of the City of Pittsburg, Kansas, and to share with you just a few things that have been happening in our city and will be occurring over the next several months. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedules to join us this morning for this event.
Although there are many differences between government and an ordinary business, there are some similarities. One of those similarities is our need to provide adequate customer service to those who receive our services. Those of us in government sometimes forget that we are here to provide a service to the citizens of our community and those who come to visit our community at any given point in time. These are our customers. In some ways, government appears to often assume citizens don’t have a choice, and it acts like that, not necessarily because that is the attitude of every single person within that government, but simply because the bureaucratic system of government has been set up so we doesn’t have to listen to our citizens, our customers. After all, if you have the attitude that your citizens are captive customers, why would you need to provide customer service? This same concept is often seen with some larger businesses that don’t see a high level of competition in their market.
Over the last couple of months, our City staff has been having serious discussions about customer service. I believe our people understand the need for customer service. We know that although our citizens might not directly or initially have a choice of where they purchase their water, or what street they drive on to get to their home where they live, or what police department comes to their rescue when they call 911, we do know that we do use our citizens’ money to provide them with a service, and, ultimately, they do have some choices. For example, they could live outside our city limits or in a different community altogether. And, we also know they do have the ability to provide input through the governmental process.
In order for Pittsburg to continue to move forward, we must continually focus on delivering a service to our citizens that is consistent with their needs. This service must be consistent with the needs of our businesses and those future businesses that might be considering Pittsburg as a future home. And, this customer service must be measured by whether our customers feel we are satisfying their needs, not whether we feel we are satisfying their needs. We must listen to them and take action when feedback is received. Businesses like Watco Companies, one of our sponsors for this morning, have to make this a priority each and every day, or the customers will eventually leave. Just because we are a municipal entity doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have that same focus.
This focus on customer service must first be implemented at City Hall. Our City staff has been making changes at City Hall to ensure we are able to provide our citizens with the service they deserve. For example, instead of our citizens wandering through the halls of City Hall wondering where they should go for answers to their questions, those questions can now all be answered at our new customer service desk. Or, instead of our citizens being directed from one office to another to fill out the proper documentation or make payments, this can now all be done at our new customer service desk. Our goal is to make the City Hall experience the most pleasant we can. If a citizen comes in with an urgent request, or a significant complaint, the worst thing we can do is tell them some other office within City Hall handles those matters, or point the finger down the hall.
We also understand, however, that whether in City Hall or out of City Hall we are all customer service representatives for the City. Consequently, we are also going to ensure everyone receives customer service training, so all of our people understand the value of delivering swift and satisfying customer service. I believe we are taking the actions necessary to improve our citizens’ experience with their local City government. I am proud of our City staff and employees for the work they have put in to this effort, and I am extremely excited about this initiative and how it will change the Pittsburg, Kansas, experience.
Public safety has been a topic of conversation lately. Over the last five or six years, Pittsburg has consistently ranked in the top spots for crime index in the State of Kansas, in some years ranking higher than Topeka, Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas. This is attributable to, at least in part, some of the drug trafficking and other narcotics related activities in Southeast Kansas. As late as May of this year, the State Attorney General said 80% of meth labs in the State of Kansas were located here in Southeast Kansas. In some reports, Crawford County is reported as the county with the second highest number of meth labs in the State of Kansas, second only to Cherokee County.
In 2012, our staffing levels forced us to run almost 40% of our patrol shifts at minimum acceptable levels: one dispatcher, one supervisor and only three patrol officers – this is for a community with almost 21,000 residents, and over 21,000 people when Pittsburg State University is in session. This trend continued into 2013. In some cases, when a minimum acceptable shift is in place, one call, like a domestic violence call for example, can tie up two of our patrol officers for quite some time, leaving only one officer to patrol the remaining portions of our City. Or, if one of our patrol officers is required to transport an individual to the jail in Girard, or for some other evaluation outside of town, this also takes a patrol officer off of the street.
Additionally, at times, due to staffing levels, our police department has been unable to assign a single investigator or patrol officer to work narcotics cases. Over the years, City staff and the City Commission felt these figures and staffing levels were unacceptable. However, the past City Commissions have also been cognoscente of the budget constraints caused, at least in part to, the reduced funding from our State and Federal governments. As most of you all already know, these levels of government love passing down unfunded mandates, with absolutely no direction on how we should come up with the funds to pay for them. As a result, the decision has been made over the years to do everything we could to continue to cut costs and improve efficiencies, rather than seek additional revenues through property tax or sales tax.
The current City Commission, however, felt it was time for a change. We asked a group of citizens to get together and give us a recommendation as to how we should come up with the additional monies necessary to properly fund our police and fire departments.
We looked at options, and we heard the recommendation from this citizen group, and we made the tough decision to take a sales tax initiative to the citizens for a vote. We felt this was the fairest way to tackle the revenue shortfall, as everyone, regardless of property ownership status or residency uses both our police department and fire department. This way, visitors to our City would also help fund both departments instead of leaving all of that responsibility to the citizens of Pittsburg. A half-cent sales tax was approved by our citizens. These additional monies will allow us to provide better response times to calls, more adequately investigate crime and narcotics related incidents, provide better training and equipment for our people.
We are truly blessed to have quality men and women serving in our police department and our fire department. I want to thank each and every one of you for your sacrifice and for putting your lives on the line every day to protect the citizens of Pittsburg.
In terms of economic growth and economic development, we have had a number of large local successes over the past couple of years. The list includes:
*Pinamonti Physical Therapy - $5.2 million expansion, with new jobs
*Via Christi Surgery Center - $20 million expansion, with new jobs
*Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas - $5.5 million expansion, with new jobs
*Jake’s Fireworks – Superior building acquisition, with new jobs
*Atkinson Industries – 10,000 square foot expansion, at least 60 new jobs already created
*Masonite - $1.35 million expansion, at least 65 new jobs already created
*CDL – McNally building acquisition, with 5 new jobs already created
These are just to name a few of the larger ones. There are many other small businesses (too many to name all of them) who have opened their doors, or have relocated to larger facilities, within the last year or so - Vietti Auto Body and CP Communications being two of these. Just in the last few months we have seen multiple small businesses open their doors, including Bourbon Street, Gorilla Country, Joe’s Gyros and Philippe’s, among others. Other businesses like Pitsco, Watco, Names and Numbers, Pitt Plastics, Miller’s and NPC are also continuing to grow, and continue to show dedication and loyalty to Pittsburg.
Should we be satisfied with this success? Absolutely not. Should we be expecting much more than this going forward? Absolutely. The bar has been set high, and we must now do everything we can to support our local businesses so this local organic growth can continue. But, we must also do everything we can to make our City and community more attractive to businesses who might want to relocate. What might this include?
*Workforce Development and worker certification programs need to be a focus, so we have a workforce who is trained in the specific skills businesses are looking for
*Retail and Hotel Feasibility studies to help us better understand what businesses we could attract and what they are looking for
*Regional partnerships with other communities within Crawford County and surrounding areas, so we are strengthening our relationships and improving our chances to land that business seeking a place to relocate
*Improving our aging infrastructure, so we have roads, bridges, water lines and sewer lines that will support the additional business
*Improving our housing stock and housing conditions so we are in a better position to attract businesses that could bring middle class jobs to our area
*Execution on the visioning results from Imagine Pittsburg 2020 – we need to follow through with the specific task items our community said were a priority to them
If we pursue these items diligently, I believe we will create an atmosphere more conducive to attracting businesses. These must be a top priority in the upcoming year, and I am confident that our focus on economic development and growth will be paramount going forward.
In the area of infrastructure improvements we continue to make a lot of progress. Our streets improvement program funded by sales tax is seeing many successes. Just over these last couple of years, we have seen major improvements to Quincy, Centennial, Walnut, Georgia, Michigan, Joplin, among others, not to mention the significant improvement on Broadway from Madison to 2nd street.
Future improvements have already been scheduled, including Broadway from 11th street to 20th street, which is scheduled for next year. I am proud to say we have touched all four quadrants of our City with significant street improvements. I believe all of our citizens are now able to see the results, and I know we have been very transparent, and are using the money wisely.
Other major crossing upgrade and road expansion projects scheduled to commence later this year, or next year, include an upgrade of the 20th and Broadway intersection, an upgrade of the Centennial and Broadway intersection, and the expansion of Quincy from Broadway to Joplin.
We have also been investing significantly in a lot of infrastructure most citizens don’t see every day. For example, we have been finishing up the remodeling of our Water Treatment Plant. With the improvements being made at the plant, we are now well-positioned to not only provide a more adequate supply to our citizens, but we are also in a position to become a regional supplier of water to other communities in this area. I believe this could be a significant game-changer in the near future.
Our Public Works department has also been implementing a five-year water line replacement program, where we are systematically replacing certain portions of aging water lines. Other manhole repair programs, fire hydrant mapping programs, sewer line replacement projects have also taken place.
It’s often said that some of these tasks aren’t necessarily “sexy”. Although this is true, they are necessary. Without a focus on improving and/or replacing our aging infrastructure, we will have a difficult time keeping our current businesses and citizens, and attracting new businesses and people. This must continue to be a priority. I would like to thank our Public Works department and our Public Utilities department for their hard work, and for their daily focus on improving our City’s infrastructure.
Generally, we have become leaner as a City. We have focused on efficiencies and processes on a daily basis. We have focused on our costs and expenses in a way we have never done so before. For example, for the first time in a long time, if ever, the Four Oaks golf course is less than two months away from ending its second year in a row without receiving any subsidies from the General Fund. For it to operate on its own, we had to make some significant operating and staffing changes. But, we believe the quality of service at the golf course has done nothing but improve over that same period of time.
At Memorial Auditorium, we have focused on increased support of local programming, gaining sponsorships from local businesses, minimizing financial risks when dealing with outside performers, and making ordinance changes allowing us to book events that previously were not allowed like estate auctions with guns for sale or the NRA banquet. These changes make good business sense.
At Atkinson Airport, we have made significant operating and staffing changes as well, and we are looking forward to the time, in the near future, when it will be able to operate without any subsidies from the General Fund.
Other significant plans are in place to drive out additional efficiencies across our entire system. For example, I am extremely excited about the future implementation of a new asset management and work order system. This new system will allow us to manage our major assets, including water and wastewater plant systems, water and sewer lines, park facilities, and other valuable resources in a more efficient manner. It will provide the capability to structure our work through an automated system of requesting, executing, tracking and managing maintenance on our assets as well as other activities. It will also give us the ability to analyze our workloads and workflows to constantly improve efficiency throughout City operations, so we have the right number of people working on the right projects at the right time. We have already put out a request for proposal, and have received some meaningful responses. We are currently reviewing those responses and we will be scheduling live demonstrations yet this month, with a final decision coming before the end of the year. Our current timeline has final implementation occurring sometime in March or April of 2014. Overall, this system will give us the ability to drive the efficiencies we should be focusing on each and every day.
We will also be working on the installation and implementation of a communications backbone, which will provide the capability to access our key technical systems from the field (including the work order and asset management system) and improve communications among remote sites to allow increased automation and remote oversight and control. We are currently preparing requirements for a consultant to design the system, and we expect to test and then install the system next Spring.
These kinds of initiatives can be seen all throughout our City government, and I’m very proud of the work our City staff has put into making these changes happen.
I have now had the opportunity to serve as an elected member of the City Commission for two and a half years. Often, during that time period, I have been asked whether I am enjoying my time as an elected official. Or, I will simply get asked why I made the choice to run for public office. Although I believe some genuinely want to know my answer, others, at times, appear to ask these questions expecting me to say I have either made the wrong choice, or I am embarrassed that I have run for public office. I’m sure the other former Commissioners or current members of the City Commission get these same questions as well.
I don’t believe I made the wrong choice, and I am not embarrassed to say I ran for public office. It has provided me with incredible opportunities to effect change in this community. Public office is not for everyone, but I do believe, however, that we all have an obligation to participate in our governmental process, and to contribute to our community.
In my mind, Pittsburg, Kansas, is much more than a small old coal-mining town. Yes, it has a rich coal-mining history, and we should never, ever forget that. We should embrace our history. We should continue to celebrate it.
But we shouldn’t be limited by it. We shouldn’t keep ourselves in a box. Despite some of our challenges, we do have a bright future, and we are well-positioned to do great things. It’s time for us to lift our head high and realize we live in a great place. We live in Pittsburg, Kansas. We have a great workforce. We have a growing downtown. We have great businesses that have chosen to make Pittsburg their home. We have growing healthcare providers and a growing hospital. We have a great University that continues to grow and build each and every year. We have great people. This is a great place.
Today, I encourage each and every one of you to get involved. Get involved in this community in a way you’ve never been involved before. Don’t sit on the sidelines. Do everything you can do to make Pittsburg even better. If you are hesitant to vote in an election because you think your vote won’t matter, vote anyway. If you are afraid to run for public office because you think you’ll lose, run for public office anyway. If you are hesitant to get involved because you feel you don’t have the time, make the time. If you are unsure whether you should make your voice heard because you don’t know if someone will listen, make your voice heard anyway.
To continue this momentum, it will take each and every one of us to get involved - to participate in the process. Our past here in Pittsburg, Kansas, is full of people who were willing to risk it all, to do great things. We have a rich history of doers - entrepreneurs and leaders who risked everything to make something of their business and lives, and to make Pittsburg, Kansas a great community. They jumped into the arena and contributed to this community with blood, sweat and tears. In that spirit, I would like to leave you all with one of my favorite quotes. It’s a quote from President Theodore Roosevelt from his “Citizenship in a Republic” speech from 1910. The speech is also sometimes more commonly referred to as “The Man in the Arena” speech. The pertinent language I would like to share with you reads as follows:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Bottom line, I couldn’t me more excited about the future of Pittsburg, Kansas. The state of our City is strong. With your help we will continue to move Pittsburg, Kansas forward. May God bless you all. May God continue to bless Pittsburg, Kansas, and this fine country we call home. Thank you.
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