PITTSBURG, Kan. — In a typical year, Pittsburg’s mayor would deliver a State of the City address at a luncheon in the spring in front of a crowd of hundreds of community members. As we all know, however, 2020 has been far from a typical year.
Pittsburg Mayor Dawn McNay instead gave her speech Thursday in the basement of Memorial Auditorium with only a small group of city staff, video production personnel and news media representatives in attendance. The event was livestreamed on the city’s Facebook and Youtube channels, where a recording of it can also be accessed.
"Your city government made the conscious decision not to lose momentum, knowing that stopping would make it harder to get going," McNay said of the city’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
"So road crews continued to improve streets — certainly helped along with less cars on the road. Our law enforcement responded to an increase in calls. City administration made the tough call to close the pool and cancel the fireworks to keep us safe. The city commission having to limit the number attending our meetings but providing avenues to continue public input," McNay said.
"All of this work and effort is allowing our city to combat the effects of the virus in a proactive way, not reactive. Not to surrender, but to build that resiliency and capacity for full recovery by working together."
McNay discussed a variety of priorities the city has continued focusing on, including building new housing.
"Crawford County is the only county in southeast Kansas predicted to grow in the next decade," she said.
"To support business growth and attract individuals that work in Pittsburg but live elsewhere, we need planned new housing developments, such as SIlverback Landing and Creekside East," McNay said. "And tucked away throughout our community is other new housing — Higginbotham Properties, Dennett Properties, Payton’s Hamlet and the Leland Lofts."
The city’s biggest infrastructure project over the next five years, McNay noted, will be the replacement of its 65-year-old wastewater treatment plant.
"This is a $40 million project and your city leaders are exploring all avenues to help mitigate the overall cost to taxpayers," she said, "but it is imperative that we move forward."
While the wastewater plant will be a significant public investment, McNay said, nearly $480 million has been invested in Pittsburg over the past five years, most of which has been private sector spending.
"That investment has resulted in creation of over 1,500 new jobs," she said, adding that new local businesses such as Mike Carpino Ford and Sunflower Hemp Co., and projects such as construction of the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas’ clinical education facility to support its family medicine rural residency program, will create more jobs and bring more money into the local economy.
As could be expected, though, much of McNay’s speech dealt with the city’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
She acknowledged city staff for their hard work with reduced staffing levels amid budget uncertainty, as well as healthcare workers, and schools, including both those at the K-12 level and Pittsburg State University. Because it planned ahead, McNay said, PSU has been able to mitigate the impact of a COVID-19 outbreak that could have been much worse.
"As the expected surge showed up, we should be proud of our response," she said. "It was swift, comprehensive, and to date has reduced the outbreak."
In an interview following McNay’s speech, City Manager Daron Hall also discussed the impact of COVID-19 — specifically as it affected planning for the State of the City.
"It was actually still going to be live up until about two weeks ago," he said. "We were looking at having it at the auditorium and having the social distancing, so there would probably have only been about 50 people, normally there’s over 200, but we would’ve been able in the auditorium to spread them out. But once the back-to-school spike happened it was obvious that we didn’t know where it was going to end."
Despite the changes, Hall said, he thought the State of the City was a success.
"It was interesting," he said. "It was unique, but I think we did it in a safe way and I think the message still got out there."