The city of Independence will press ahead with efforts such as tearing down eyesore buildings, stepped-up enforcement of property code violations and overall service to citizens, says City Manager Zach Walker. He urged citizens to step up and help the community move forward.
Walker, in a state-of-the-city address at Wednesday’s Independence Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon, showed a clip of Harry Truman, having come back home after his White House days and saying he loved Independence “because it’s the center of things for most of us, and it’s the center of things for me.”
Walker said Truman touched on “something subtle yet profound” about the city, a sense of civic pride.
“I know that President Truman was inspired by the same civic pride that inspires me today,” he said.
Walker pointed to several improvements in the last year, including quicker turnarounds on property code cases and, thanks to more money in the budget to tear down dangerous buildings, reducing the wait time on that from 120 days to 40. Also, voters made the sales tax for streets permanent.
Looking to the rest of this year, Walker outlined several plans and challenges under what he called the idea of “fix, plan or do.”
• The city will continue to face financial challenges, as the retail tax base continues to erode mainly because more purchases are online. Sales tax growth is expected to be just 0.5 percent this year. More people are getting rid of landlines, meaning less for the city in telecom taxes.
A use tax on the April ballot would address some of that concern, but otherwise and without other action the city is looking at a $4 million shortfall within five years. “Adjusting to this new normal will be one of the biggest challenges for this generation of (city) leaders,” Walker said.
• A groundbreaking is expected soon for the “Uptown Market,” a $3.3 million facility on the edge of the Square for a farmer’s market and other events year-round.
“This is truly a project for the community by the community,” Walker said.
• He said the Downtown Redevelopment Coordinating Committee will be more comprehensive and more effective than past efforts in devising a strategy for the Square. “And folks, this will be more than a plan. This will be a do. Stay tuned,” he said.
• Also touching on community pride, Walker said the city needs to get its population growing again and needs to take back, from Columbia, its status as the fourth-largest city in the state. “I am confident that we are taking the steps to correct this,” he said.
• A new system in the coming months to make it easier to track and pay utility bills.
• The retaining wall at the Independence Police Department headquarters at Truman and Noland will get some badly needed work soon.
• Moving from 40 logos across several city departments and programs toward one under the idea of “consistency of messaging.”
• A continued partnership with the Community Services League on workforce development.
• Officials are still hoping for development to be announced soon at the 91-acre Eastgate Business Park at R.D. Mize Road and Little Blue Valley Parkway.
Walker is a little more in the limelight than normal this week. He’s also being given the Distinguished Citizen of the Year award this Saturday at the chamber’s annual dinner. Also, there is another state-of-the-city address, delivered next month by Mayor Eileen Weir.