By Mr. Robert P Johnson (Leonard Wood)April 17, 2014
When uncertain times are on the horizon, prudent individuals attempt to get their financial affairs in order and this was the underlying theme of the Community Forum at the Waynesville High School library Monday night.
Sponsored by the Waynesville-St. Robert Chamber of Commerce and moderated by Mike Dunbar, chamber president, the forum brought leaders from Pulaski County, St. Robert, Waynesville, Fort Leonard Wood, the Waynesville R-VI School District, and the Fort Leonard Wood Institute together to field questions on a variety of topics from the attending public.
In their opening remarks, each of the representatives set the tone for the meeting with comments concerning the fiscal well-being of their organization or current conditions affecting the organization's impact on the community.
Pulaski County Presiding Commissioner Gene Newkirk started the open discussion by reporting how the county had converted unused space in the county jail into a 28-bed inmate facility, allowing the county to save more than $340,000 in expenses to house inmates in neighboring counties.
"All inmates are currently housed with Pulaski County," Newkirk said. "This savings will be passed on to help the sheriff's office with personnel and other expenses, such as cruisers."
Newkirk said the costs to house one inmate outside the county ranged from $37 to $50 per day and with the additional bed space created, the county could create jobs within the department with the savings.
When a question on roads was addressed, Newkirk said the county was looking at how road equipment was purchased in the past and by not financing the purchases, the county was able to buy additional road equipment with the savings.
"You will start to see a marked improvement in road and bridge maintenance in the county with in the next couple years," Newkirk said.
George Sanders and Luge Hardman, mayors from St. Robert and Waynesville respectively, answered questions from the audience concerning improvements to both their communities.
Sanders said a pedestrian bridge over I-44 near Missouri Avenue was set to begin construction within the next 45 days.
In addition, Sanders said several other private construction projects in the city were underway to include a strip mall behind the Hardee's, all designed to attract new retail outlets to the community.
Hardman reported that revenues from city sales taxes in Waynesville had increased 22 percent over the last five years and most of that was in part to the development of the downtown area.
"Our downtown is alive with people, both day and night, now," Hardman said. And while the expansion of new businesses in places like the Roubidoux Plaza is the most visible improvements in the city, Waynesville has continued to improve water and sewer lines within the municipality.
Hardman also told the audience of changes coming to the recreational facilities within the city.
"We're adding soccer fields in the park, along with replacing the shower facility in the RV park," she added.
For Fort Leonard Wood, Maj. Gen. Leslie Smith, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and Fort Leonard Wood commanding general, reported the installation was getting an engineer company from White Sands Missile Range, N.M., to offset some of the previously reported scheduled deactivation of units on post. He also added that several civilian positions would be converted to military slots over the next year.
Smith said the command was also looking at adding National Guard and Army Reserve assets to the installation.
But Smith said the community as a whole needed to be able to tell the Fort Leonard Wood story and the installation's importance.
"Locally, we know the one of a kind nature of Fort Leonard Wood, but regionally and within the state, as well as nationally, we need to let people know of the capabilities of Fort Leonard Wood," Smith said.
Dr. Judene Blackburn, superintendent of Waynesville School District, said the school district saw a 2 percent reduction in the number of students in the district this past year, and while some of the reduction could be attributed to a smaller junior class, some of the numbers were in part because of fewer school-age children with military Families in the area.
Blackburn also said reductions in impact aid, money provided to the district to offset the loss of property tax revenue, was a concern for the district, but through money management decisions, some of the loss would be off-set by no-interest capital projects.
Dorsey Newcomb, representing Fort Leonard Wood Institute and the Sustainable Ozarks Program, reviewed the organization's role and commitment to keeping Fort Leonard Wood a viable military installation with strong economic support to surrounding communities.