Service is a two-way street, if one listened to Pittsburg Mayor Michael Gray on Tuesday.
Gray began the State of the City address by talking about the city's renewed focus on customer service. Then, toward the end of the speech, he spoke about how those same customers can serve their community.
Hitting a number of topics along the way, Gray eventually summed the speech by saying the state of Pittsburg is strong.
But in order to understand how he got there, it's important to note where he started.
Gray opened his remarks by comparing private businesses and the city government, noting that both must serve their customers.
"Those of us in government sometimes forget that we are here to provide a service to the citizens of our community and those who come to visit our community at any given point in time," Gray said.
It's with that in mind that Gray noted the effort of the city to focus more on customer service. One way that has been exemplified has been in City Hall itself, with a new customer service desk serving as a one-stop shop for residents when they come in,rather than passing them to this department or that room.
Further along those lines, all city employees will undergo customer service training, as Gray referred to all of them as customer service representatives for the city.
The topic then turned to public safety, and Gray spoke about the challenges the city faces. Gray spoke about the high number of meth labs that are found in the county, and the rates of crime as compared to other cities. He also noted that the Pittsburg Police Department had been at minimum staffing levels close to 40 percent of the time last year, with just a dispatcher, a supervisor and three officers on duty.
"Over the years, city staff and the city commission felt these figures and staffing levels were unacceptable. However, the past city commissions have also been cognizant of the budget constraints caused, at least in part to, the reduced funding from our state and federal governments," Gray said. "...As a result, the decision has been made over the years to do everything we could to continue to cut costs and improve efficiencies, rather than seek additional revenues through property tax or sales tax."
With that in mind, the city asked for and the city residents approved a half-cent sales tax increase to fund police staffing, as well as fire equipment and training. Gray said this will improve response times, investigate crimes to a better extent, and have better equipment/training for its staff.
Gray then changed subject to economic development, a major issue in Pittsburg.
Gray spoke of successful expansions either completed or in the works, including Pinamonti Physical Therapy, CHC-SEK, Via Christi Surgery Center, Jake's Fireworks, Masonite, CDL Electric and Atkinson Industries. He also noted smaller businesses that have opened or relocated to larger facilities, like Vietti Auto Body, CP Communications, Bourbon Street, Gorilla Country, Jo's Gyros and Phillippe's. He also praised Pittsburg stalwarts like Pitsco, Watco, Names and Numbers, Pitt Plastics, Miller's and NPC for their efforts throughout the year.
"Should we be satisfied with this success? Absolutely not. Should we be expecting much more than this going forward? Absolutely. The bar has been set high, and we must now do everything we can to support our local businesses so this local organic growth can continue," Gray said.
In order to attract and retain businesses, Gray called for more workforce development, retail and hotel feasibility studies, regional partnerships, improved infrastructure, improved housing stock and executing the plans established in Imagine Pittsburg 2020.
That discussion made an easy transition to infrastructure, and Gray spoke about the effects of the city's sales tax increase for road improvements. That has produced major overhauls of Michigan, Centennial, Quincy, Joplin, Walnut, and Georgia.
The re-paving of Broadway has been completed from 2nd to Madison, and next year calls for a similar project from 11th to 20th streets.
"I am proud to say we have touched all four quadrants of our City with significant street improvements," Gray said. "I believe all of our citizens are now able to see the results, and I know we have been very transparent, and are using the money wisely."
Major projects in the pipeline for the next year include reconstruction of intersection at Broadway and Centennial, as well as Broadway and 20th St. The widening of Quincy Street from Broadway to Joplin Street is also on the slate.
Under the surface of improvements has been an incredible amount of work on the Water Treatment Plant to position it as a regional water supplier, as well as the continuation of a five-year water line replacement program.
"It’s often said that some of these tasks aren’t necessarily “sexy”. Although this is true, they are necessary. Without a focus on improving and/or replacing our aging infrastructure, we will have a difficult time keeping our current businesses and citizens, and attracting new businesses and people. This must continue to be a priority," Gray said.
Within city government, Gray said that Four Oaks Golf Course is on track for a second straight year without subsidies in the budget, while changes to the ordinances at Memorial Auditorium have allowed for a broader type of events to be scheduled.
Gray also spoke of a new asset management system that will allow the city to track its staff and job requests to a better degree moving forward.
Gray then began to move to a challenge of the residents, saying that although he was called to serve as an elected official, not all feel the same way. He said that it's time that attitudes begin to change about what Pittsburg is and could be.
"In my mind, Pittsburg, Kansas, is much more than a small old coal-mining town.Yes, it has a rich coal-mining history, and we should never, ever forget that. We should embrace our history. We should continue to celebrate it," Gray said. "But we shouldn’t be limited by it. We shouldn’t keep ourselves in a box. Despite some of our challenges, we do have a bright future, and we are well-positioned to do great things. It’s time for us to lift our head high and realize we live in a great place. We live in Pittsburg, Kansas."
Finally, Gray called on citizens to get involved in the community, quoting Theodore Roosevelt's "Man in the Arena" speech before reaching his conclusion.
"Bottom line, I couldn’t be more excited about the future of Pittsburg, Kansas. The state of our City is strong. With your help we will continue to move Pittsburg, Kansas, forward," Gray said.