Dodge City has had success on complex federal, state and local issues through partnerships, City Manager Cherise Tieben said during the annual State of the City address.
Issues that face Dodge City, and perhaps all of rural America, sometimes require local governments to cajole, push and implore federal officials into adjusting national policy, said Dodge City Manager Cherise Tieben at the annual State of the City address.
"It's all about partnerships. We just can't do it alone, anymore," Tieben said after the presentation at the Conference Center, Tuesday.
Tieben, even before ascending into the city's top administrative position at the start of the year, had been a major proponent and instigator of the Southwest Kansas Coalition, a multi-city workgroup that reaches a regional consensus before leaning on state and federal officials. Garden City and Liberal are also founding members of the coalition, and Hays was included in the last year.
One of the coalition's major accomplishments in the last year has been the adoption of language in the national farm bill that redefined Dodge City as rural, opening it up to certain federal housing incentives programs. Though the six Kansas federal delegates voted against the bill, work with congressional staff members, particularly those under Sen. Pat Roberts, got the new rural definition added.
Many of the people attending the address were able to purchase their homes through rural housing programs which not only incentivize buying, but building, Tieben said.
"We have not been eligible for those kinds of programs for many years. Now we're eligible." The next round of funding for those programs is expected to happen in October.
Another victory claimed by the city through the Southwest Kansas Coalition has been the "it's not a pilot" program that will bring an immigration officer to the region each quarter.
"We actually have nearly equal numbers of Mexican nationals in Dodge City, Garden City and Liberal than Kansas City has in that area, that Wichita has in their area, and they have those services on their doorstep," Tieben said.
For more than three years the city has worked to convince the immigration service of the need in southwest Kansas. The program falls short of what the southwest cities had wanted, a full-time revolving officer, but once the demand is understood by the federal agency, the cities hope it will expand.
Tieben said she was initially nervous about inviting the federal service into the city and the reaction of the immigrant population, but thus far she says it has been well received.
Without advertising the program directly, the mobile officer filled the slots for appointments later this month. The following two days in Garden City and Liberal have been equally booked, Tieben said.
"We need (the immigrant and visa worker population) to remain legal," Tieben said. "We want them to keep their legal status. … We see more come in legal and fall out because it's so complicated and difficult; it's difficult to achieve the time."
Following the theme of partnership, the city has also joined with the non-profit organization Interfaith Housing to make blighted, abandoned houses market-ready, a problem that has proven stickier than even the generally tight new housing market across the rural Midwest.
Three houses were also donated by First Christian Church as it prepares for a major expansion. Volunteer labor will help turn the houses around and profits made from sales will be used to purchase the next round of houses.
Tieben also defended the city's growth through the economic downturn.
"Dodge City has continued to see steady and sustainable growth," Tieben said. "We have never been a community that has endured great busts or booms, we simply have outpaced our western Kansas peers with 2.87 percent growth while Garden City and Liberal have seen 0.88 percent and 1.91 percent growth, respectively."
Job growth has mirrored that population growth, she added, with Dodge City leading the region with 6.9 percent job growth according to a May 2013 U.S. Census report while Garden City gained 0.3 percent and Liberal lost 3.7 percent of its jobs.
In that vein she highlighted decisions made by the city that have drawn critics' ire, including the halting of development of a West Comanche Street corridor and the proposed shifting of a tax incentive district from near the casino to elsewhere in the city.
With the proposed Comanche Street expansion, the city was looking at a bill of $6 million. Rather than building it and hoping for investor interest, the city has decided to wait to see if a developer shows interest, allowing the city to tap into state resources that would pay 80 percent of the construction cost.
Likewise, retailer interest in the STAR bonds district near the casino has not been as lively as expected when then districts were plotted, Tieben said, and the city will move that district at the recommendation of a large "anchor" store the city is hoping to attract.
"I truly believe that the retailers will begin to see how our community has not just invested in retail, but we have invested in the quality of life projects that can grow a community and make a community more attractive for our employees to live in," Tieben said.
Tieben also spoke of the difficulties facing the city's transportation inventory, particularly Amtrak passenger service along the Southwest Chief Chicago to Los Angeles line and flailing service out of Dodge City Regional Airport.