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Mayors outline M-I challenges, needs

INDEPENDENCE -- For the mayors of Monmouth and Independence, their annual State of the Cities Address is always an opportunity to tout accomplishments in the respective communities.

January 15, 2013

INDEPENDENCE -- For the mayors of Monmouth and Independence, their annual State of the Cities Address is always an opportunity to tout accomplishments in the respective communities.

At last week's edition of the annual event, another message was evident: citizens in both towns will face critical choices in the next few months.

Independence Mayor John McArdle touched on a revenue challenge that could hurt municipal services. Monmouth Mayor John Oberst, meanwhile, laid out the reasons residents should vote "yes" on a proposal to buy property for a new police station.

"Opportunity has knocked on Monmouth's door," Oberst told an audience of about 200 at the M-I Chamber of Commerce gathering at Independence Cinema. "I believe that ignoring it would be a huge mistake."

Oberst spent half of his presentation discussing City Council's decision to buy the old Forest Capital complex off Highway 99W for $1.7 million. That deal hinges on residents approving a $3.7 million bond measure in May to purchase and pay for conversion costs.

The levy rate is approximately 48 centsper $1,000 of assessed value, Oberst said. Because the proposed bond would come into effect when an existing city library bond expires, the actual tax increase over the current rate for residents would be about 20 cents per $1,000.

John Oberst

John Oberst

"The average home in Monmouth has an assessed value of $180,000," Oberst said. "The increase in taxes on the average home would be about $36 per year."

The city will save $1 million using this bond scenario as opposed to buying property and erecting a new building, he added.

"We are moving from being a small town to a small city," he said. "This infrastructure improvement is a critical part of ... that transition."

McArdle got the bad news out of the way first, discussing Independence's financial struggles with debt on capital projects.

"Being an entrepreneur means taking a calculated approach to the future -- investing in assets that will pay you back," McArdle said. "Some of our efforts provide immediate return, while others have a longer payback."

Staffing levels have been cut by 20 percent in the last two years, while salaries have been essentially frozen. Future pay hikes will be between 0 and 1 percent through 2016, he said.

Independence hopes to put a $4.5 million general obligation bond before voters in May that, if passed, would allow services to remain as is.

John McArdle

John McArdle

"We have the opportunity to refinance and restructure the debt that we very appropriately used to make the last decade's investments," McArdle said. "These will lower the interest rate and change the cash flow by saving a projected $300,000 a year."

A levy rate won't be set until spring, though McArdle guessed that, combined with the expiration of a current bond, the net effect has "got to be less than 25 cents per $1,000."

Not all was shop talk. McArdle said Elk Creek Forest Products, which opened in 2011 with 12 employees, is now up to 29. A regional soccer organization has approached the city about locating a major tournament at the forthcoming ballfield complex off Highway 51.

Oberst said the city is close to selecting a consultant to help with the design of its Main Street Amphitheater project and that its off-lease dog park will be open by this summer.

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