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by Greg Burris, Springfield City Manager
Springfield has been praised for being a city of action. While citizens from many other communities get stalled in analysis paralysis, Springfieldians pride themselves on being collaborators and on having a bias toward action. It is a trait that has resulted in great innovation and a sense of pride.
This past year has been nothing short of mind-bending and surreal (reader: please insert your examples here). As I look back at 2016, here are some of the things the City’s elected officials and staff have grappled with with during the past 12 months.
The year started out with a major flood that ironically proved our point that our storm water infrastructure (some of which is more than 100 years old) is in need of replacement on a regular cycle. Most people don’t really think of our storm water infrastructure unless it’s during or immediately following a heavy rain. And that’s great. But some of us at the City and Greene County deal with it 365 days a year. In the city, we’re currently on pace to replace our storm water infrastructure about every 600 years, whether it needs it or not. Addressing our storm water needs will require action by our community in the future.
The Busch Municipal Building, which houses many of the City’s offices, was one of many Springfield buildings that flooded, displacing dozens of finance, information technology and public information staff members. I continue to be grateful for our employees who are able to go with the flow (pardon the pun) and continue to serve our citizens, despite these circumstances. If we hadn’t taken corrective action, we’d be in negotiations with Bass Pro about converting the Busch Building’s basement into a Wonders of Wildlife aquarium.
Our departments that ensure public safety – Police, Fire, 911, Public Works, Emergency Management – just to name a few – provided excellent life-saving service during this event and dozens of other weather-related and man-made incidents throughout 2016. “Action” is their middle name. Springfield Fire Department made 120 water rescues during the late 2015 flood alone, with nine of those being life-saving rescues of individuals in imminent danger. Michael Kuss was awarded the Missouri Medal of Valor for his heroism.
In April, citizens renewed our community’s 1/8-cent transportation and 1/4-cent capital improvements sales taxes with approval by more than 80% of voters. We think that transportation infrastructure is one of the most important factors in a city’s economic progress, and we’re glad most citizens agree. These revenues allow us to continue to act on our community’s desire for an enhanced transportation infrastructure.
We continue to struggle with an overstressed criminal justice system and overcrowded jail, which is an issue that can’t be solved overnight, but we continue to work with Greene County to seek an answer. We believe it must be addressed, in part, by applying more focus upstream in the system, through the forging of new concepts and innovative thinking. The City will continue to work with the County to develop a plan of action to support our criminal justice system in 2017.
In the Ozarks, once we put our minds to it, it is as good as done. The response to the Impacting Poverty Commission’s 2015 Report and Call to Action and the Zone Blitz and Northwest Project pilot initiatives has been nothing less than amazing.
In just one year’s time, a Missouri Job Center office has been opened in north Springfield, with nearly $4 million in grant funds secured to help those seeking jobs or higher-paying jobs. Also, an additional 4,419 new jobs were added in Greene County during the past 12 months.
On May 7, more than 2600 volunteers and 200 organizations and churches came together for Convoy of Hope Springfield, an all-day community event providing more than 8000 “guests of honor” with groceries, haircuts, family portraits, medical and dental services and, most importantly, hope for the future. And that was just one day in 2016. The remaining 364 days were also filled with people, churches, organizations, schools, health care providers and others participating in all types of “give-back” and “hand up” activities.
All across the community, people took action to help their brothers and sisters. The response from our faith community has been inspiring. When they prayed, they moved their feet, as the African proverb encourages.
Consider this letter a big “thank you!” to all who jumped into the fray and lent a hand in 2016. Let’s all move our feet again in 2017. Even the greatest of journeys begins with just a single step. I salute those action-oriented Springfieldians who stop at almost nothing to make life better for others in our community.