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FROM THE MAYOR

City looks ahead to future

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As always there is plenty of activity taking place in Columbus. From the completion of one road project, the starting of another, housing starts, and more. All you need to do is drive around town and you will see.

The blacktop overlay has been completed on 15th Street east to 12th Avenue. This, along with the new curb and gutter, is a welcome addition to that area. Scotus is working to complete their area and this will also be a great addition too. East 14th Avenue reconstruction has begun. We all recognize the huge inconvenience that this phase of the process causes. We can only stress that the short term inconvenience will be well worth the long term benefits.

Speaking of traffic, the inactive traffic signal at the Bomgaars/Freddy’s/Starbucks/Hampton Inn is being reactivated by the developer. The need for this light was recognized when the redevelopment was laid out. This area has been a tremendous success and the daily traffic has been what was expected. But, as is the case with so much right now, the necessary parts and materials to upgrade the signal were on back order. When completed this light will be welcome.

On Sept. 12, I was honored to participate at the rededication of the Andrew Jackson Higgins Memorial. I joined Congressman Fortenberry, Air Brigadier General Cyril Carcy (French Defense Attaché), Brigadier General Kevin Lyons (Asst. Adjutant General), Gerald D. Meyer, Members of the Higgins family. What an awesome event that highlighted this great memorial.

We recently began the search for a new fire chief. Dan Miller, our first fulltime fire chief, resigned in August. Dan did a good job of guiding our department though the necessary changes as we moved to this full time position. We have posted the opening and are accepting applications.

At the same time, staff and I are looking at the current make up of our department. We are looking at what is the best management structure for Columbus as we grow. The demands on our department continues to increase. We have budgeted three more fulltime firefighters to join us this year. This, along with the budgeted remodel of Charlie Louis, shows the growth that we are having.

Columbus has been blessed over its history to have a dedicated volunteer program. Today these volunteers are trained individuals that are capable of aiding our fulltime firefighters in all capacities. Fire calls, ambulance calls, whatever the issue they can and do respond and help.

As we move forward we are looking at the staffing and structure of our sister cities (Norfolk, Fremont, Beatrice, just to name a couple) to understand how they are managing things. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. If someone else has walked through this process, what have they learned that we can use. This is a work in progress.

Earlier this month I was able to sit in, if only for a brief time, at the Envision Columbus event. This event, sponsored by the Chamber, was attended by interested players from around the community. Young, old, professional, blue collar, business owners, an array of backgrounds. The intent of this gathering was to get input into key areas that had been earlier identified as being key ingredients in Columbus growing in the future.

Here is the deal! We must be forward thinkers. We cannot rest on our past successes. What worked yesterday might be helpful but does not guarantee success. Many of the key items identified for our growth were what you might expect. Affordable housing, housing in general, good schools, good jobs. Those are the easy ones.

But we hear more and more that our community needs to offer more. We have to complete with Omaha and Lincoln and others. Whether it is the business professional moving to town or the recently graduated high school or college grad that is starting their new job. What is it that we need to offer to get people to come and to stay?

A safe community is high on the list. A community with good broadband access (certainly highlighted with the COVID crisis), and a community that offered the many amenities that today’s families are looking for.

People will look for work and bring their families to a community they enjoy. Columbus must work to make an environment that attracts people and keeps them. We have the industrial base. This has been one of our great assets. Today’s challenge is developing and maintaining what our citizens expect. It is a challenge but one I believe we are up to.

So often I think most citizens look at city government and think they just take care of the basics needed today. Police, fire, water/sewer, steers, parks/rec and other amenities. Yes, we do all of that but at the same time we must be looking at how to best grow our community. We cannot stay stagnate. The recent census is an indicator of what could come if we don’t capitalize on our assets.

The census shows great growth in the Omaha/Lincoln corridor. Columbus was one of a few other communities that showed growth. Columbus’s growth was 8.7%, Norfolk grew 3.1% and Fremont grew 2.8%. Our growth is good compared to most. But we compete with the Omaha/Lincoln corridor and we must work hard to stay competitive. This is key to our future.

We are always working on projects that are new, in their infancy or at some stage of development. Such projects usually garner plenty of talk, coffee shop gossip and speculation. One such project is the proposed casino coming to Columbus. I am constantly asked what, when, this, that. The truth is this proposed project is not to the point where the developers have been able to discuss many specifics.

The project is headed up by the CER group. They have contracted with Caesars to partner in their casino and horse racing venture. This project is proposed for the west edge of town on the property once occupied by Wishbones.

The when, what, whys will be coming soon. When the group has finalized their agreements (and I’m told they are only weeks away) they will approach the city and begin the process that every new entity must go though. They will bring their plans and renditions to the city. They will start by submitting things to the Planning and Zoning Committee for their review. Planning and Zoning makes recommendations to the City Council and if favorable things move forward from there. Public involvement is an essential part of all of this.

I look forward to the process beginning. There will be many questions along the way. The process takes time and is set up for public input and to gather information. I view this project as a huge asset for our community. But as with all things it will come with pluses and minuses. We must look diligently at all aspects so that we can minimize the minuses and enjoy the pluses.

Something Good Columbus!

Jim Bulkley is the mayor of Columbus.

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