PAOLA — Less than 12 hours after President Donald Trump addressed the nation with his State of the Union address, local city, county and school district officials took their turn in the spotlight during the annual State of the City Breakfast on Wednesday, Feb. 6, in Paola.
More than 50 community members attended the event, which was sponsored by the Paola Chamber of Commerce and moderated by Blake Heid of First Option Bank.
Public officials from the city of Paola, Miami County and Paola USD 368 talked about the status of their governmental entities and the issues impacting local residents.
City of Paola
The city of Paola was represented by Mayor Artie Stuteville and City Manager Jay Wieland.
Suteville said it’s been a rough start to the year with plans for the Darol Rodrock Academy at the Ursuline Sisters property falling through and a water main break causing the city to go under a boil water advisory for a few days.
She still expressed optimism in the year ahead, even though it will be a transitional year for the city’s leadership team. City Clerk Dan Droste plans to retire in August, and City Manager Jay Wieland plans to retire toward the end of the year.
Wieland said city officials have been working with City Council members for some time on a transition plan, and a couple of employees have already stepped up into roles where they are being groomed to take on additional leadership responsibilities.
He specifically mentioned Stephanie Marler, who is the assistant city clerk, and Randi Shannon, who is the assistant to the city manager.
“We’ve made a commitment to develop talent internally,” Wieland said.
He added, though, that when he leaves there will be a nationwide search for the next city manager of Paola.
Stuteville said the city ended 2018 with solid cash balances in most of the budgetary accounts, and there were record sales tax receipts for the third straight year.
She also said she expects the city to continue to grow. In 2018, the city issued 565 building permits with a construction value of more than $9.3 million. Of that amount, more than $2 million was from new residential housing, Stuteville said.
Some of the goals for 2019 Stuteville mapped out include continuation of the city’s street and sidewalk improvement programs, strengthening the building inspection and property maintenance programs, building retail and commercial sectors, supporting residential growth, creating railroad crossing quiet zones, renewing the local option sales tax to support park and swimming pool improvements, and developing a plan to redevelop downtown, including looking into the feasibility of designating a historic district.
Paola USD 368
The Paola school district was represented by Superintendent Matt Meek and USD 368 Board of Education President Cathy Macfarlane.
Macfarlane said the recent completion of the new bleachers and press box at Panther Stadium, as well as the locker room and classroom space inside the tornado shelter at Paola High School, bring to a close the list of promises from the $17 million school bond that voters approved in April 2014.
Bond revenue has already paid for a variety of projects, including new classroom space and tornado shelters at each school, remodeled secure entryways at each school, a new gymnasium at Paola High School, a biology greenhouse attached to the high school, field turf and a new track at Panther Stadium, and a new baseball/softball complex near Cottonwood Elementary.
Macfarlane said a new concrete pad and shaded shelter soon will be built in the middle of the cloverleaf baseball/softball complex.
The school district also recently built six new tennis courts east of the original greenhouse at the high school, as well as an animal science lab and classroom inside a 15,000-square-foot warehouse building the district purchased in Paola’s Industrial Park. School buses also are being stored at the location.
Macfarlane said additional state funding has allowed the district to hire additional staffing and add classes, such as a Spanish teacher at the middle school and bringing the culinary arts program back to the high school.
She also said the district is preparing to launch the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program.
Macfarlane also briefly reviewed the results of the school district’s recent telephone survey that asked local residents their opinions on a variety of topics.
One of those topics is the possibility of the city and school district teaming up to form a recreation commission. During the question portion at the end of the State of the City breakfast, an audience member specifically asked about the recreation commission.
Meek and Wieland both said the issue has been discussed for some time, and both entities have agreed that, to be successful, the formation of the commission has to be a grass roots campaign led by community members and not either the city or school district.
Wieland said the issue has been discussed in the past, but the timing was never right. He believes that has changed now. The school district’s survey revealed that 94 percent of the respondents would support forming a joint recreation commission with no mill levy increase, and 68 percent said they would support it with a one-mill increase.
“The timing has to be right, and it has to come from the community,” Wieland said. “I personally believe we’ve reached that point, and the timing is right.”
Miami County was represented by Administrator Shane Krull and Commissioner Rob Roberts.
Roberts listed several road and bridge improvements completed in 2018, including polymer overlays on bridges on Old Kansas City Road near Hillsdale that should extend their lives more than 30 years.
In 2019, Roberts said the county plans to pave seven miles of gravel roads, and the commissioners are working to finalize what those routes will be.
Roberts also said he and his fellow commissioners will continue to strongly advocate for the improvement of Kansas Highway 68, including widening it to four lanes between Paola and Louisburg, as well as its inclusion in the state’s next transportation plan.
Roberts also emphasized the accomplishment of the county and Louisburg working together to acquire a $3.1 million Mid-America Regional Council grant to upgrade nearly one mile of Metcalf Road from the fire station to 287th Street.
“It’s the second largest grant that Miami County has ever received,” Roberts said.
While talking about public safety and health, Roberts said the County Commission recently took over governance of Miami County Fire District No. 1, and will do the same for Fire District No. 2 in March.
He said upcoming changes with Johnson County will force Miami County to reassess how emergency medical services are delivered in Fire District No. 2 in the northern part of the county. Roberts said the county likely will eventually add an ambulance crew in the area.
“We have the equipment but no place to put it,” Roberts said.
An upcoming big project will be the county’s plan to transition the sheriff’s office to a digital 800 MHz radio system. The county recently hired Tusa Consulting Services to help map out the plan.
In 2018, building activity in the unincorporated area of the county resulted in 907 total permits issued, including 63 new homes, Roberts said. The total construction value of the permits was $34,759,495.
“We continue to see growth in our county,” Roberts said.