Letter from the Mayor: March 2022
Letter from the Mayor: March 2022
March 3, 2022
Mayor Steele writes about taking on the city’s biggest unfunded challenges.
In January’s letter, I mentioned that council approved a record budget for 2022, including over $21.6 million into capital improvement projects across Nixa. The investments we’re making this year are the most we’ve ever made in a single year. This goes a long way towards meeting various needs across the community through the work of all city departments.
However, we still have even bigger challenges ahead for parks, police and public works which we can’t yet afford to address. As our population continues to boom, the demand for infrastructure and services increases faster than revenues can keep up.
One of my top priorities as Mayor has been fiscal responsibility. Council passes a balanced budget every year. We continue to aggressively pay down the city’s debts at an incredible rate. We plan conservatively, reliably underspend versus what we budget for each year, and put away the difference as savings (some of this savings from previous years is included in what we plan to spend on projects like a new all-inclusive playground for McCauley park in 2022).
Yet, in order to stay in the black financially, we have also delayed some of the most expensive projects that our city needs and our citizens desire. Let’s take a look at each of these challenges.
Police Department Growth:
Our police department needs more officers to keep up with the growing numbers of 911 calls, yet they’ve already outgrown their headquarters building, making expansion of the Police Department Headquarters a major unfunded priority which will likely cost several millions of dollars. Then, we’ll still need to find more dollars to add salaries, benefits, vehicles, equipment and training for at least 6 more officers which staffing surveys show we already need. Keep in mind, the Police Department must be fully staffed around the clock, every day of the year, using multiple shifts.
We’ve maximized every inch of our current 10,000 square foot headquarters building. An analysis recently performed shows that for our current staffing (not including the need to hire additional officers in future years), we should have at least 16,000 square feet. We haven’t even mentioned the need for more parking.
Streets, Sidewalks & Trails:
Our city is spending money this year to plan much needed improvements for North Street, yet those plans, once completed, will sit on a shelf until we can begin to afford to build the planned improvements in phases.
During strategic planning, the public told us they want to see improvements made along Missouri Street to make it safer for student pedestrians, to improve traffic flow, and address stormwater issues. This project is also prohibitively expensive to begin.
As northeast Nixa finishes filling in with new homes, we believe southwest Nixa will be the next area to see intense subdivision development and growth. That means roads in south and west Nixa will need to be widened to handle additional traffic capacity, including Gregg, Norton, Inman, Rosedale, and Northview.
We would also like to connect to regional trails in Greene County and the Chadwick flyer which runs through Ozark. We know the routes where we would like to add trails and sidewalks, but it’s more expensive than you’d think to design and build them.
Our parks system has a low number of park acres per capita compared to other communities. Strategic planning, parks master planning, and public input of all kinds continues to remind us that the people of Nixa want more space in general for recreation right here in town. Our existing parks also have aging facilities which are at capacity.
At The X Center, we have simply outgrown our single gymnasium and community rooms.
Our recreational baseball league is very popular but we need more ball fields in order to keep up with the program’s growth and to accommodate all the teams which need field time for practices and games.
We also want to develop the donated land set to become the Eoff Family Century Farm Park, Rotary Park needs renovation, and we want to address other community desires such as the idea for a skate park. The cost of new and renovated parks facilities can quickly rise into the 10’s of millions of dollars as we seek to address all these facility needs plus the ongoing operations and maintenance of them.
What are the solutions?
In a way, these are growing pains. The kinds of problems communities want to have because they are signs of forward momentum. However, they are also expensive challenges. We’re not yet sure what the best solutions are to these challenges, which ones to tackle first, or how we’ll be able to pay for them. That’s the work of city council, city staff, and even engaged citizens who we need to participate in the planning and discussions around these challenges and their solutions. If you are passionate about any of these challenges, I encourage you to reach out to your council members to push us towards solutions, provide insights, and help us think about next steps.