"It is an honor and a privilege to serve as the Mayor of the City of Salina. The city where my parents, my children, and I grew up. I would not be sitting here today had it not been for the influence of my grandmother, Nora Longbine. It was my Grandma Longbine who taught me the importance of being involved in voting, and the election process. She served most of her life as an election poll worker in North Salina, and spent many hours counting paper ballots! Over the past two years, I have learned a tremendous amount of what is required in the operation of our city. It did not take me long to find out what I didn’t know. I will continue to learn moving forward.
As the commission begins the new year, our meetings may seem a little different. As we move to just two meetings per month, the agenda may become very full and long. I am calling this the double-stack agenda. It will take some time for city staff and the commission to adjust to the new schedule. We will be adding more routine items such as concrete repair and street projects to the consent agenda. The spending of taxpayer dollars will not be taken lightly. These will be items that have been budgeted and need to be addressed to keep the city in good shape. Second readings will no longer be required. This will be done to make our meetings more efficient. We will evaluate how the new schedule works for all parties at the end of April. I will do my best to keep meetings on track and flowing professionally and respectfully. As we all lean into the meetings, there may be some bumps and rough spots so, please be patient as we make this transition.
It is a pleasure to welcome Commissioner (Jerry) Ivey to the board of commissioners. Jerry’s Grandpa, former Mayor John Burgess, is surely looking down with much pride tonight. All 5 of us come with varied backgrounds and perspectives. Each of us may look at issues from different angles. We may not always agree, and, to quote Commissioner Davis, "there is nothing wrong if we disagree and end up with a 3-2 vote." I believe the five of us all have the best interest of Salina in our hearts.
As I thought about the coming year, I reflected on what has been accomplished over the past year. Much of our time has been spent addressing housing needs. The rezoning item we heard earlier is the beginning of the next step in meeting those needs. In a few months, we will see construction begin on the first phase of building 500 new apartments. Along with other housing developments currently underway, we are on track to meet the goals of the Live Salina strategic housing study.
It’s been said that Salina has not seen population growth. Several years ago, we saw a strong push for surpassing 50 thousand in population and receiving metropolitan city status. That was a few downturns ago. The 2020 census was determined to have undercounted. The Live Salina 2022 update estimated our population to be around 48,600. With the current employment opportunities and additional housing options becoming available at all income levels, this could be the year Salina surpasses the 50-thousand mark in population. The groundwork is in place to reach this goal. I feel all the pieces are coming together. We have 3 colleges in Salina that are growing and expanding. Students come from all over the country, and many find Salina to be a town they love and make their home. There has been a tremendous amount of investment in Salina in the past few years. I expect that trend to continue. With the recruitment efforts of local employers, people are relocating to Salina. As I drive by some of our new housing developments, I know new residents must be coming from somewhere. To quote (Salina) Fire Chief Tony Sneidar, a transplant from Pennsylvania, "Patti and I just love it here!" This is a common response I receive from people new to Salina.
A statewide issue has been the availability of quality childcare. We recently made it easier to open childcare facilities. The (Salina Area) Chamber (of Commerce) and (Salina Area) United Way have taken the lead and have been working with agencies and partners to provide several additional childcare opportunities in Salina. Along with our good school system and quality of life amenities, all the ingredients are in place to make Salina a place that people want to live in and raise a family.
During this next year, progress will continue with street improvements, the water main replacement plan, and our parks master plan. On a recent trip to Topeka visiting our son Caleb, I was astounded by the rough condition of the streets. It’s like that every time we visit. When I come home to Salina, I want to kiss the street. There may be some rough spots but overall, our main streets are in great shape. The final phase of the Bill Burke (Park) baseball upgrade is now underway. I recently rode my bike on the freshly poured 10-foot sidewalks. I didn’t leave tracks in the concrete, it was ready for traffic! This spring we can look forward to a premier ballpark which will be a boost for our youth sports and attract players and families from all over Kansas. We will follow up with plans for a new water feature at Jerry Ivey Memorial Park. It will be an honor to have Commissioner Ivey be part of the process to select and approve a new feature in the park named in his father’s memory.
As I begin my term as Mayor, I am fortunate to be stepping in at a time when the city is in a really good place. Although the city has not been immune to the inflation pressures we have all felt, the city’s finances remain solid. We were able to implement an employee pay plan, which has led to nearly full employment. Our employees are dedicated and will answer the call for service on cold January nights, like this one, or whenever there is a need. Public safety is a primary function of city services. Our police officer numbers continue to trend upward. Thanks to a generous donation from a public-private partnership, a new special response vehicle that will ensure officer safety will be delivered in a couple of months. Design plans are coming together to build a new fire station, as well as replacing our fleet of aging fire trucks this year. Ensuring our employees are safe and well-equipped is one of the most important things we can do as a commission.
We are blessed as a city to have many areas moving forward in a positive direction. While Christmas shopping downtown for my wife Donna, the clerk told me people from Manhattan and Wichita frequently come here to shop because it is so nice and pleasant in downtown Salina. To borrow the slogan from a local church (which I am sure you have all seen on their billboards), "Love Our City." This is something we can embrace, and work together to make our city a better place that we all love and appreciate.
In closing, I would like to give thanks to God for giving me the opportunity and ability to serve. Thank you to my wife Donna, who is patient and supportive regardless of how long our meetings last, or how many calls and emails I need to respond to. My sons, Caleb and Jonathan, daughter-in-law Dawn, and grandsons Connor and Dillon. And to my extended family of Aunts, Uncles, and cousins who have been by my side my entire life. I am honored to serve as your mayor."
- Mayor Bill Longbine