After he noted some recent accomplishments that offer hope for Independence, as well as challenges and projects moving forward, City Manager Zach Walker called for a City Charter review.
The charter, first approved by voters in 1961, was last amended in 2002. In his state of the city address given at the monthly Independence Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Walker says the charter needs to be modernized so city government can better respond to community needs.
Walker did not offer specifics on what he might hope to see changed, but said whereas many cities have a charter that calls for a mandatory and regular review, Independence does not.
“As a result, our charter has become antiquated at best,” Walker said. Some portions have been ruled unconstitutional in court while others “limit our ability to adapt to the needs of a 21st-century community,” he said. To help resolve that, the city manager called for citizens to press for a charter review commission, something the City Council would have to approve.
Walker said the city continues to face challenges caused by naturally rising costs in general fund services against stagnant sales tax revenues – 2.5 percent versus less than 1 percent.
But the city did provide a 6 percent electric rate cut and has “built something even more powerful” than raw data – hope.
Walker cited the citizens Linda Pringle and Mark McDonald for leading the Proposition P campaign, as voters approved dedicated tax funding for the animal shelter and more police officers; resident Monte Short for steering efforts to privately rehab the former Comprehensive Mental Health building as part of revitalization in Englewood; and retired cop Bob Sorenson for his willingness to help negotiate a new retiree health care plan that saves the city millions.
“Bob Sorenson has become one of the most unlikely friends I have ever made,” Walker said.
Walker called on the chamber to conduct a community fiber feasibility study, as the city mulls using its existing fiber-optic network to give more citizens high-speed internet access.
“In 2020, reliable high-speed internet shouldn't be a luxury; it should be a right,” he said.
Walker lamented that some late budget cuts last year included some public transit hours and a city housing study. Transit is crucial to a workforce development, and while Independence doesn't lack affordable housing it needs more quality. Housing quality is part of the reason, he said, the city's northwest neighborhood residents have a life expectancy 10 years less than those in the southeast.
He asked a chamber committee to give some recommendations to addressing housing quality, pledged to make another try for a housing study and said it will take a “collective effort” to provide better public transit for anybody that needs it.
Walker also noted that city staff is planning a $3 million Square beautification project, with hopes to start in the spring 2021 and address infrastructure and curb appeal and help preserve a historic area.