From the City Manager 09/09/16
Earlier this week, we launched our first “City Chat” event offering community residents an opportunity to join me and other City leaders for information updates and conversation related to City operations. Our first event attracted about 30 guests and included a variety of discussion topics.
If you attended or read the coverage of the event in the newspaper, you know that it was a rather impassioned meeting with commentary from people with widely differing viewpoints. I understand the concern and questions that are on the minds of citizens, and, to a certain degree, I also can appreciate the fervor with which some people choose to express their opinions.
However, as my team sat down the following day to evaluate the session, it was abundantly clear that future sessions must be structured with clear standards for decorum and mutual respect. This is in fairness to the citizens who attend in hopes of participating in civil, productive conversation. In planning “City Chat” for the community, that is the full intention…that it is an opportunity for meaningful, two-way communication and that everyone walks away having learned something that will improve their understanding. Disappointingly, I’m not sure we accomplished this with our trial run. We will do better!
In the meantime, for those of you who were unable to attend (or for those who did but found that the information exchange got lost in the spirited debate), here is a recap of questions, answers and news shared:
City News Tidbits
- The Kelly Aerospace company will soon open operations in Independence, locating in a City-owned hanger at the Independence Municipal Airport and creating six to eight new jobs.
- We have distributed 110 rummage sale permits for the KAN-OKLA 100-mile Highway Sale this weekend.
- The railroad crossing on Maple Street behind Walmart will soon receive improvements and safety upgrades.
- The City is working with Labette Health to provide a water line extension onto its property on Peter Pan Road to service the new health care facility under construction.
- There is now a payment drop box available at the temporary City Hall location, 811 W. Laurel, under the canopy. This is in addition to the box north of City Hall on Myrtle Street, and customers may drop their payments in either location.
- The Shenandoah country music concert August 19, co-sponsored by the City and the Independence Chamber of Commerce Convention & Visitors Bureau drew a respectable crowd and from a financial perspective, it was a break-even event for the City. This event brought out-of-town guests to our community, provided good exposure for our Memorial Hall event facility and, ultimately, did not cost taxpayers money.
- The Montgomery County dispatch center is preparing to co-locate with the City’s 911 dispatch center in the temporary City Hall location at 811 W. Laurel.
Questions from Citizens
Q: Why are monies routinely transferred from the City’s “Enterprise Fund” (water/sewer) to the general operating fund?
A: Monies in the Enterprise Fund are collected through customer water/sewer fees. Money is transferred to the operating fund to cover expenses associated with providing water and sewer services, including wages for employees whose jobs are related to water and sewer operations; infrastructure and facility maintenance costs; equipment use and maintenance; and administrative costs.
Q: Can you explain the ADA “ramps to nowhere” built on sidewalks surrounding vacant property?
A: In our efforts to address the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) mandate for ADA (American’s with Disabilities Act) compliance related to handicapped-accessible sidewalks throughout our community, approximately $2.4 million has been spent to rehab sidewalks and build ramp access. (Half of the funds have been supplied by the City; the other half by a federal grant.) A total of 1,289 ramps have been built to date, with 127 more on the DOJ list left to construct.
In our “settlement agreement” with the DOJ, several specific locations for new sidewalks and ramps were ordered. The criteria for selecting the priority sidewalk/ramp projects included:
- Areas where complaints had been received by the City for lacking ADA access?
- Sidewalks and ramps adjacent to streets that had been paved or improved since 1992.
- Sidewalks/ramps along a “connecting route” between major thoroughfares or ADA accessible pathways.
When the DOJ surveyors came to town in 2009 to physically survey our community for ADA compliance, their main focus was on City owned facilities, not residential areas. For residential areas, they used the rules above to determine the exact locations where ramps and sidewalks should be taken care of and included all such sites/addresses in their official settlement order.
Likewise, our engineering firm contracted to plan the sidewalk/ramp project also worked from a “map” of the designated locations.
One or two of the locations identified by the DOJ were residential areas that had been affected by the flood of 2007 and were no longer privately owned and no longer had houses on the property. Because the areas were designated in the settlement and connected to a sidewalk (albeit in poor condition), ramps were constructed anyway. Had we evaluated the situation more closely and had better communication between all parties, we may have been able to request changes in the DOJ order to remove the areas that are no longer residential properties. This was an oversight that resulted in a couple of extraneous ramps being constructed.
These are just a few highlights from the conversation this week. Stay tuned for more information on the next “City Chat” event. We will do our part to improve the event to allow fair and balanced citizen participation, and I hope you will consider attending.Micky Webb, City Manager