Special submission from Sallisaw City Manager Keith Skelton
State of the City and Looking to the Future
As we move into 2021, and hopefully leave the many national issues of 2020 behind us, I thought it would be a good time to discuss the City of Sallisaw; where we are and where we are going.
Needless to say, COVID has been a big issue for our community, state, and the world. Being rural, Sallisaw has been somewhat shielded from the large outbreaks seen in other places. But that doesn’t mean we have not had our issues and challenges. For the City of Sallisaw, those challenges have centered around keeping employees and their families healthy so that city services can continue without interruption. I am happy to say that we have been able to do that, although at times it has been extremely challenging. Our city workforce has seen infections and quarantines, but we have been able to work through everything and continue to provide services to our citizens.
For city operations, we have been on a three-year program to improve operations and to lay out a plan for future infrastructure needs of the city. The numerous services we provide dictate that we must continue purchasing and performing preventive maintenance on many types of assets, including equipment needed to provide our services. But, it is just not city services alone we must pay attention to. We must also look at quality of life items in our community. All of this requires that funding be in place; both current and future funding. Some of the items we have completed the last three years include replacement of sewer lines, completion of Phase I of our flow basin project at the wastewater treatment plant, renewed efforts on our street asphalt programs, completion of landfill cell VIII, and replacement of electric poles at all of our Interstate 40 crossings. Since 2017, we have documented over $5.2 million worth of projects that have been completed in the community.
Quality of life amenities for our community have also been part of our projects. Our new splashpad at Jay Reynolds Park is operational and has been enjoyed by many families. We have a new civic center/event room that will open as soon as the COVID situation allows. The construction of our new walking trail at the sports complex is almost 100% complete, with more amenities coming quickly. Along with the sports complex, Sequoyah Trail will soon become a staple of our community and a popular gathering spot. We have constructed a new gazebo on the library lawn, as well as completed improvements to the outside of the library. These improvements included fresh paint, replacement of rotten wood and windows, a new entry door, and removal of flower beds, which were replaced with concrete and flowerpots. A very exciting addition to the library lawn was the chainsaw carving of a young girl sitting on books and reading. Watching Mr. Coss carve out the girl with a chainsaw was an amazing sight to witness. This year we were also able to provide new Christmas decorations for the downtown area, with the library being the central focal point. Our plans are to add more decorations in the next budget.
Financially, the City of Sallisaw is strong. The City is in as good of shape as it has ever been. We continue to build our reserves and improve the net position of the City. Our net position has increased over 80% since 2016. Sales tax has seen a 13% increase since 2017 and has set many records for monthly receipts. Use tax has seen an enormous 100% increase since 2017, and our hotel motel tax receipts continue to average around $98,000 per year. All of this shows that Sallisaw is growing!
Over the course of the next two years we have many projects that will become reality. The replacement of the North Electrical Substation, a $1 million project, is on track to start construction in September of 2021. We are currently completing Phase II of the wastewater treatment plant flow basin project, and we plan to install a new bar screen and rehabilitate an out of commission aeration basin. Once our work at the wastewater treatment plant is completed, we will have invested close to $2 million on the aging plant. Did you know the wastewater plant was originally built in 1970 and upgraded in 1991? Portions of this plant are over 30 years old, with some approaching 50 years in age. I must complement our employees at the wastewater plant, they do an excellent job in keeping this plant operational and dependable. But, as with all things, soon we will have to address the construction of a new plant.
This year we will also work on continued expansion of our landfill facility, as well as the construction of a new methane gathering facility. The methane facility is a perfect example of a public/private partnership that benefits all involved. The methane will be harvested through wells, sold and injected into a gas transmission main.
Of course, the exciting news about our community is the new Veterans Care Facility coming to Sallisaw. This facility will provide a new home to 175 veterans and create over 275 new jobs in our community. Construction has started and we are very excited to welcome the Veterans to Sallisaw. I cannot say enough about our city project team and our many community partners who worked tirelessly to bring the new facility to Sallisaw. Along the way we have made many new friends and partnerships with members of the ODVA and their Board of Directors. It is an honor to have them as part of our community.
Along with the new Veterans facility, city staff has been answering many inquiries from investors and companies looking at Sallisaw for expansion. Although this slowed due to the COVID virus, we are seeing an increase in inquiries again. Economic Development is high on our list for our community and we are constantly looking for the right partnerships to bring to Sallisaw. SLPT and Aviagen continue to benefit the community, with Aviagen continuing to grow their presence in Sallisaw with multiple expansions. Economic Development is about the right company, the right people, and the right location at the right time. All of this and more must fall into place for other growth opportunities in Sallisaw.
As we move into 2021 the Board of City Commissioners and our employees will continue their efforts to make Sallisaw an even better place in the future. Our city employees work very hard every day for our community. On a daily basis they are taking care of your sanitation needs, keeping the electric and water on, protecting our great community and providing many other services and customer service needs. Our City Council provides the leadership and forethought our community needs. They are a great group to work for and do an excellent job guiding city staff. I have always said we have the best employees in the State of Oklahoma. Combine our employees with the tremendous leadership of our City Council, more great things will come to Sallisaw.
I invite all of you to follow our social media accounts, as this is our way of communicating with you on a daily basis. If you ever want to visit in person, please let us know, we will be happy to answer any questions you have and to help in any way possible.
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