Celebrating 5 Years!
Celebrating Five Years!
On January 2, 2018 I marked my fifth anniversary as the City of Grant Superintendent. (Yes, that’s my official title, though most people think it’s just easier to say ‘city manager.’) It’s been an interesting and enjoyable five years and I’ve met a lot of great people in Grant! I am optimistic about the City’s future. Looking back over the past five years I realize we have accomplished a lot that I am proud of and I’d like to take this opportunity to share it with you.
When I started here five years there were three projects on my desk that had been started but, for various reasons, had stalled. The first of these was the replacement of the aging emergency sirens in town. Within a very short time I was able to get that project on track and the new sirens were installed. The project was funded primarily with grant money and so we were able to improve our emergency system at very little cost. These sirens are on a maintenance schedule with the installers and should last for many years.
Two other projects on my desk when I arrived five years ago were the replacement of the golf course well and the replacement of the library roof. Glenn Taubenheim of Sargent Irrigation was a huge help in determining the needs of the golf course and a new well was installed. (I really miss working with Glenn.) The leaking library roof was also replaced. Some people have asked why the City has to spend money on projects like these. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but the way I see it there are two answers to that question. First, we need to maintain our infrastructure. When the City owns property that is deteriorating we need to do our best to maintain that property whether it be a leaky roof, a crumbling street, or an aging sewer lift-station. Second, maintaining our property also contributes to maintaining our quality of life. Good streets, safe water, garbage and sewage that is properly disposed of contributes to our quality of life. We need those things. An enjoyable park, ball fields, readily available flight for life services and access for doctors at the airport, and a pleasant place to bury a loved one all also contribute to our quality of life. We need these things. The trick is, of course, figuring out how to maintain them on limited funds. (By the way, the City of Grant collects a yearly total of approximately $235,000 in property tax. I’m guessing that may not be nearly as much as you thought.)
Over the past five years we’ve completed many projects in the city, all while keeping spending at reasonable levels and receiving excellent audit reports. (You can read about our latest audit report in an article on this website.) We’ve been completing street projects following a general plan of maintenance and replacement. Basically, we armor coat as many streets we can with our current budget one year and then replace damaged streets in heavily travelled areas with concrete for the next two years, then it’s back to armor coating for a year, and so on. The cost to concrete a street is not small so the number of streets we are able to complete in a year depends on the funds available and the budget set by the Council. As often as we can with our available budget we also crack seal the streets and do concrete and gutter repair. (Remember, Central Ave is a state highway so the City of Grant is not responsible for its maintenance.)
On my very first day of work five years ago, my public works employees told me the city needed two very important water projects: a generator on the main well and water meters. I agreed that having a generator on the well was important. It does not see much use, but in the event of an extended winter power outage or other natural disaster, I think most citizens will be very happy that we were successful in getting it. As to the water meters, when one commercial user reported to our public works employees that they were using over 10 million gallons of water a year and paying only about $410.00 a month for it, the Council at the time decided it was time to take a serious look at installing meters. They determined that when a Nebraska Rural Water rate study done for the City of Grant showed that with the installation of meters most users’ yearly average bill would be lower than the rates currently being charged and fees would be distributed in the more equitable ‘you pay for what you use’ model (just as electricity is) it was time to install the meters. (Meter installation is complete and the public works guys have been able to help many citizens identify and repair leaks that have been identified with the data they have collected.) At the same time the meter project was completed we also installed approximately 10 blocks of 10” water main to replace a 4” cast-iron main that was approximately 70 years old. The entire project was funded with a loan and 20% loan forgiveness if we follow the rules set forth by the State so it’s basically like getting a grant for 20% of the project cost.
Over the past five years we’ve completed several small sewer projects and maintain a sewer cleaning schedule that involves inserting a camera in the main lines and checking the condition of them. We also installed a lift-station generator which is very important. This year we will also be completing a large repair project on one of our sewer lift stations. In addition to these technological improvements we make use of other advanced technology. We have a GIS unit that uses GPS to allow us to mark, map, and find water valves, manholes, sprinkler heads, water and sewer lines, and any other item we choose to mark. Our wells and water tower are linked to a computerized system that automatically calls us if a problem is sensed. The new water meters provide a lot of useful data including leak detection and a tamper report. Even the snow blade on our tractor uses new technology allowing portions of the blade to remain on the ground while other sections lift over certain obstacles. The lifeguards at the pool make use of an app which alerts them if lightning strikes within 10 miles so that they can safely evacuate swimmers from the pool. We have also been recently updating our website. Oh, I can't believe I almost forgot one of our most complimented projects: we installed the retaining wall around our substation a few years back and it looks great!
Of course, all this technology wouldn’t mean much if we didn’t have a great staff to use it. Public Works Director and Code Enforcement Officer, Gary Beckler, and City Clerk/Treasurer, Jessie Faber, as well as cemetery grounds keeper, Tim Taylor and Librarian, Robin Quinn were already employed by the City when I took my job. Gary will be celebrating 28 years here in May and Jessie will mark her 10th anniversary that same month. Robin celebrated 10 years in October. Congratulations to all of them! In addition to these employees, I am proud to say that I have had the privilege to hire some great staff. Randy Heinemann, Bill Taylor, Rachel Patrick, Angela Armstrong, and Bonnie and Perry Leimer are among those who have come on board at the City under my direction. I am proud to say these employees make the City of Grant a better place! Thank you to all of you!
In addition to my duties as city superintendent, I fill several other roles for the City of Grant. One of my favorite jobs is that of Airport Manager. Grant Municipal Airport is owned by the City of Grant. We have an airport advisory board and I serve the FAA requisite role of Airport Manager. The first year I was here we put together a fabulous airport fly-in. We had a lot of great airplanes on display, flew a lot of local children on Young Eagles rides, and fed over 300 people a lunch catered by YDC – all without any expense to the taxpayers because our airport board members were able to secure donations to cover all of the costs! For some reason, I think our airport often gets a bum rap. This is unfair as our airport is one of the few City run facilities that is self-supporting and it contributes greatly to the economy and quality of life in Perkins County. We have two ag-sprayers based at our airport who employ several Grant residents allowing families and tax dollars to stay in the area. In addition, our airport supports the local physicians and hospital with ready access to flight for life services and with regular flights that bring specialists from surrounding areas into the hospital to provide services for patients that they would otherwise have to travel great distances to obtain. Also, many of our businesses regularly fly employees into our airport. This list includes Great Plains Communications, Sargent Irrigation, 21st Century, the ethanol plant and the local coops to name just a few. We also have a couple of regional flight instructors who regularly make use of our airport. You may also be surprised to know that our airport is frequently visited by an inspector from Homeland Security. As for the airport finances, the operations and maintenance of our airport is funded solely by the income from hangar rents and ground leases. Thanks to the many volunteer hours put in by our airport board members, the airport often brings money into the general fund of the City! As with any city department, capital projects often find funding from outside sources. The FAA’s AIP program funds approved capital improvement projects here at 90-95% - that means we only need to come up with 5-10% of those project costs! The City has been working for 20 years to get an AWOS installed at the airport. Recently I was able to secure approval from the NDA for the installation of this weather system! We are still waiting on verification of funding from the FAA who is waiting for the latest appropriations bill. Once installed, the AWOS will provide real-time weather data to anyone from the flight for life pilots to outlets such as The Weather Channel so Grant citizens can also make use of the information.
I also serve in the position of Economic Development Director for the City of Grant. The largest and longest project I’ve worked on was that involving Dollar General. It took years for the store to find a location in town. We were finally able to bring a new business to town and make sure the land they located on was annexed so that they would be required to pay city property tax and city sales tax. I have heard comments on both sides about the new store. I think we did the best we could by securing new development while keep them on a level playing field tax-wise with existing businesses.
Another role I fill at the City is that of CRA Director. When I was first hired, Mayor Mike Wyatt told me that his priority was housing . He asked me to bring him a solution to the housing problem in Grant. Working with West Central Nebraska Development District we brought him the Community Redevelopment Authority (CRA) concept. A CRA has authority to do development projects that a city does not. We formed the CRA and were able to purchase land for housing. The CRA now owns approximately 11 acres on the east side of town for a subdivision and is currently working on plans to bring more housing options to Grant.
Overall, I’m proud of all we’ve accomplished in the last 5 years!
As always, if you have any questions about the City please stop by, or at least stop by our website!
Dana Harris, MUP, NCMA
City of Grant Superintendent