Garden City Mayor Dan Fankhauser and City Manager Matt Allen spoke before Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce members Wednesday morning, reflecting on the city’s recent accomplishments and plans for the future.
Fankhauser reviewed the past year in and around Garden City, from the fire that damaged the Tyson Fresh Meats plant in Holcomb and city staff’s preparations ahead of the 2020 census.
Two longtime city staff members retired from the city this year — former Fire Chief Allen Shelton after 44 years with the City and water and electric department veteran Joe Campos after 69 — and Neighborhood and Development Services Director Kaleb Kentner resigned after 15 years. Kentner has since been replaced by former City of Garden City employee Carol Davidson.
Fankhauser said the city’s Downtown Development Fund has been used to reinvest more than $209,000 in private funds and more than $87,000 in city funds into Garden City over the past year. He said downtown Garden City’s central business district is at 92% occupancy, an increase from the past three years.
The Garden City Commission recently approved the city’s $123 million budget, setting a mill levy at 38.566. The city is handling about $125 million in long-term debt, used to improve city infrastructure, construct Schulman Crossing and carry out other large projects, Allen said. The city pays off the debt every year, using the money strategically to bolster local growth, he said.
“Over the last ... 10 years, our debt strategy has shifted with our strategy toward development,” Allen said.
The city is in the midst of several projects, Fankhauser reminded the audience, including four large improvement projects to be paid for by a sales tax approved by the public. Money from the tax will go to improvements at Lee Richardson Zoo, including a new animal health facility, primate exhibit and flamingo exhibit, the construction of an indoor shooting range for local law enforcement, the reconstruction of Jennie Barker Road and a third fire station on the east side of town expected to open in 2024, he said.
Allen said the city will continue to pursue federal or state funding to assist in the building of a new terminal at Garden City Regional Airport, though the project isn't moving forward at the moment.
Last winter, city staff held extensive public forums to decide the future of the Big Pool, Fankhauser said. Since then, the Garden City Commission has moved forward on plans for the iconic pool’s replacement, officially deciding to close the Big Pool after its 2020 summer season. The city is currently working with consultant Confluence on designs for the new facility.
The city keeps moving toward development, with the growing Schulman Crossing shopping center and upcoming Sports of the World and East Kansas construction projects, he said.
Both Allen and Fankhauser encouraged members of the public to reach out to city staff or commissioners with questions or concerns. Citizens can directly impact the city’s budget process through the Capital Improvement Plan, a process through which citizens tell staff what improvements projects matter to them, and by serving on advisory boards. The city’s Citizen Academy programs, a series of classes that take locals through the day-to-day of different city departments, also give community members a better understanding of the ins and outs of local government.
Any local input is valued and appreciated, Fankhauser said.
“Thank you for making Garden City the regional center of western Kansas,” Fankhauser said.