From the Mayor 09/28/16

Reprinted with permission of the Independence Daily Reporter

I’ve been asked to explain the city commission’s decision to spend more than a thousand dollars to hire a structural engineer to inspect some of our downtown buildings.

There have been three primary concerns expressed. First, is it right to spend taxpayer money supporting our downtown? Second, since Annie and I now own two downtown buildings, should I even be allowed to vote on this issue? And finally, shouldn’t we (i.e., the city government) spend our time recruiting new industry to locate in Independence instead of wasting money on the downtown?

I would argue that we’re not investing enough time and money into our downtown.

If a company is even considering locating here, they always start with some preliminary research on the city, and one important question they want answered is, “Would this city be a nice place to live?” And whether we like it or not, visitors tend to judge the prosperity of any small city by its downtown.

A great downtown makes a city feel like a great place to live.

There’s an old saying, “Investment today means growth tomorrow.” That’s why it’s been especially exciting to see so many significant improvements happening downtown in the last couple years. Aaron Schrader has made an enormous investment in our movie theater. Ned Stichman has made a major investment in rejuvenating the Litwin Building. Security First Title has completed a major renovation at 114 North Penn. Jim Hayward and Rhonda Clark have renovated 221 North Penn into a combination art and piano studio and a beautiful second story home. Gerald McDonald has created a beautiful new luxury apartment on the 2nd floor of the Jackson Hewitt Building. CRMC has undertaken an extensive remodel of the Union Gas Building at 122 West Myrtle to serve as their new doctors’ clinic.

Despite this wonderful list of achievements, there remains so much to do as there are many buildings that have been sadly neglected for decades. And crumbling buildings should be a major concern to all taxpayers. If a building is allowed to deteriorate to a point such that it’s no longer viable, someone is going to spend a lot of money to bring it down, and that expense typically falls on the city. As one example, the small brick building immediately behind Ane Mae’s was demolished last year, at an expense of $13,760 which was paid by the taxpayers. And this was for a very small building. The old Dollar General Store building is currently in the midst of condemnation proceedings, and if it requires demolition, it will be an expensive project. Luckily, in this case, the owners have said that they’re willing and able to foot the bill.

Simply put, demolition of a downtown building is expensive, and would be incredibly costly for a large building. For this reason, the commission approved (by a 2 to 1 margin) a motion to spend $1,100 of taxpayer funds to hire a structural engineer to spend a day inspecting buildings. My hope is that we can identify building issues before they become major concerns.

I voted in favor of the motion. Some people have stated that, since Annie and I now own two downtown buildings, I should not be allowed to vote on this issue. First, let me say that I will not be making use of the services of the structural engineer as there are no structural concerns with either of my buildings. But even if I did plan to take advantage of the engineer’s services, it would still be my responsibility to vote on the issue.

I had conferred with our City Attorney on this issue before voting. A commissioner is not allowed to vote on an issue if it involves paying money specifically to him or his employer, or his spouse or her employer. But if the commissioner is voting on a program that benefits all building owners, he should vote. Here’s the way that it was explained to me: almost any time a city commissioner votes to spend money, he or she probably benefits from it personally. If he votes to spend money at our water plant, he certainly benefits from it as a citizen of Independence. If he votes to spend money on our streets, he would likely benefit from it as a citizen of Independence. If he votes to spend money on our police department, our fire department, or our new sewage lines, he certainly benefits from it as a citizen of Independence.

In a nutshell, if each commissioner were prohibited from voting any time he might get some benefit from his vote, no one would ever be allowed to vote

Mayor Gary Hogsett