Editorial: Clearer picture of 2013
Op-Ed · January 12, 2013

With 2012, we learned a lot about how our city and schools are shaping up for the future, which is helping draw a clear picture on projects laying ahead this year and in the short-term future.

We especially saw the city get a better grip on some of the challenges they face. That will help making 2013 predictions, hopes and goals more specific.

• School finances: Perhaps 2013 is the year that the school district and West Branch Education Assoc. can work out a multi-year contract. The economy has had another year to improve and Superintendent Kevin Hatfield has now more than a year of experience at the helm. The one problem is that Business Manager Angie Morrison has, after 12 years with the district, submitted her resignation to take a similar position at Linn Marr. She was the district’s money and finances guru.

• Industrial growth: In regards to new business, Altorfer Inc. is serious about opening a farm equipment dealership at Interstate 80, which is great news. As of this writing, almost all of the land has been acquired. Hopefully the city can help them navigate the red tape a bit. As far as established businesses, Acciona Windpower and other companies in the wind energy industry had been waiting to see if the production tax credit would be extended before the Dec. 31, 2012, deadline. Turns out it was squeezed into the legislation that avoided the federal fiscal cliff, a part of the “tax extenders” package. Any wind projects that begin construction in 2013 can take part of the 2.2-cent per kilowatt hour credit for 10 years of production. Perhaps the U.S. Congress can make the extension even longer.

• Wastewater treatment plant: The city will review data on its Bio Dome test to see if the 20-foot-long cargo containers can strain ammonia from wastewater enough to make it an effective alternative to a full-fledged plant. If the numbers are promising, the Bio Dome alternative could cost up to a fifth less than a plant — up to $1 million, as opposed to about $5 million. We can only hope. Further, the city and Hoover Complex pitched in some dollars to help build a grade stabilization structure — essentially, a dam — northwest of town. This dam will help avoid flooding in the city by capturing up to 14.5 million gallons of water and releasing it slowly. Perhaps some of that water, through absorption and evaporation, may never run downhill to seep into the sanitary sewer pipes; we’ll see.

• Sidewalks: Two things: $140,000 and a new Safe Routes to School Grant. First, the city is building sidewalks, spurred by a desire to make up for rejecting a $250,000 SRTS grant last year. If they spend $140,000 or more in the current fiscal year, then they could have accepted the grant and done a lot more work — last year they said they could not afford $140,000. However, City Council member Dan O’Neil said he will turn in another SRTS grant application in hopes of making that point moot and getting even more work done. We hope the city can get approved for another SRTS grant, because we were so close to five new sidewalks that we could almost feel the concrete under our shoes.

• Heritage Museum: In 2012, the downtown museum got a lot of work done on the roof, electrical system and more. This year we hope the Heritage Foundation can find a way to get the building reopened with regular hours and begin the process of getting it off the National Endangered Buildings List.

• Capital Improvement Plan. In 2012, the City of West Branch finished its Comprehensive Plan. Next comes a capital improvement plan, which is simply a multi-year budget for spending money on fire trucks, police cars, land, new buildings, etc. It should flow out of the comprehensive plan in a way. The city should be able to get that done this year; likely in much less time.

• New gymnasium and weight room. This goal is morphing from getting the high school addition built — which happened in 2011 and 2012 — to putting it to use for the benefit of the city’s overall health. Right before the end of the year, we heard alarming statistics about how overweight and inactive is the population of Cedar County. But the school district, city and Hoover Complex are all interested in helping residents get on a healthier track. Perhaps the school district could work with the city to open up the new gym to even more activities — ones that help adults work toward fitness.

So there we go, off to a new year with new goals.

It is important to note that West Branch, like any other city, is not here to fall in line with the actions by our state and federal government.

We should not simply react, we need to lead. This community needs to take care of itself to such a degree that it could almost exist without the state or nation’s support. And we would rather as many decisions as possible are made right here.

Let’s charge into the new year.

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