Letters to the Editor Time to respond to Chestnut Street issues
To the editor:
We feel that it is time once again to respond to some of the issues involved in the Chestnut Street project. Chestnut Street needs to be improved. We hope that it will be improved sooner rather than later. A remaining issue is whether the city will be wise enough to complete those improvements in a timely, fiscally responsible manner, or whether it will decide to spend three or four times the dollars necessary and use an outdated, unsafe plan that will take them a number of years to complete.
The issue is not whether to improve Chestnut Street. The issue is WHEN to improve and HOW MUCH TO SPEND. The mayor and the business owner who would most directly benefit from a $1.3 million expenditure of taxpayers' money have unfortunately attempted to put so much negative spin on some of these issues that it is time to bring some clarity to the discussion.
SPIN #1: That Vermillion Grain & Fertilizer's customers have no other way to reach them than on this road. That is not true. Anyone who wants to reach them has been doing so for years; anyone who wants to take their business elsewhere is also doing so.
Their customers HAVE been using Chestnut Street the way it is now, as evidenced by the growth of their business that the owner has been touting. Safely paving and improving this road will make it more convenient for their customers; that is what they want, and that is what we want. But, is a $1.3 million expenditure necessary? No. There is a lot of room for compromise between a proposed $300,000 plan and $1.3 million.
Apparently the more modest expenditure is not good enough for these business owners. They state that they have concerns about the resale value of their business. It is not the responsibility of Vermillion's taxpayers, however, to boost that value with a $1.3 million expenditure when more modest improvements will accomplish transportation goals and meet the city's needs.
SPIN #2: That the city has already "compromised" with the homeowners. Mayor Kozak is making a valiant effort to convince the public that the city has already made compromises on Chestnut Street. That simply is not true.
The only change in the plan that has been made to date is that the city updated the type of streetlights they are proposing to use. In other words, they are finally bringing their decades-old lighting technology up to date. This is something that should responsibly have been done on all new streets in Vermillion anyway, but it apparently is the only thing Mayor Kozak can point to as a "compromise."
There are safety and economic issues that need to be resolved before this road can be improved. The homeowners have repeatedly asked to work with the city to resolve these. The city has refused to come to the table. Our mayor and council appoint various committees all the time to work on issues, yet our request for the same consideration has been ignored.
SPIN #3: That the affected homeowners have caused the delay in Chestnut Street improvements. The delay in making the needed improvements is being caused by the mayor's absolute refusal to even look for viable alternatives as well as by the business owners' refusal to compromise. The affected homeowners have attempted to work toward a responsible compromise plan for over two years.
The mayor has voted against exploring alternatives. That is shortsighted on his part and has caused delay after delay. His continued refusal to look at alternatives will cause years more of delay. Is his ego so wrapped up in this, does he so badly want to "win" that he is unwilling to open his mind to other options that may exist?
We have begged to work out issues with the city, yet they have not once since this process started sat down with us and tried to resolve these issues. Not once. Will the mayor now propose suing the homeowners? Will he spend thousands of taxpayers' dollars to drag this into court so that he can "win?"
SPIN #4: That if the taxpayers of Vermillion are not willing to spend $1.3 million to improve this four-block street they don't care about original Vermillion. That is a personal insult to those of us who have worked long and hard to see this road improved. Of course we care about those residents. Many, many of those residents, in fact, signed petitions over a year ago asking our city council to consider alternatives to the $1.3 million design. Why? They didn't want more trucks speeding through THEIR residential neighborhoods.
In fact, the taxpayers of original Vermillion have economic needs in their neighborhoods that could be met with the dollars that would be saved by making more modest improvements to Chestnut Street. Let them have a voice in where the money could best be spent.
SPIN #5: That those taxpayers urging the council to adopt reasonable Chestnut Street improvements don't care about the ag sector of Vermillion. I don't know of anyone who doesn't want to see Chestnut Street improved. Most taxpayers realize, however, that the dollars saved by making more modest improvements can go a long way towards helping ALL of Vermillion's taxpayers. Economic development and street improvement dollars are scarce. Education dollars are scarce.
Simply because taxpayers want to see tax dollars spread over a wider base doesn't mean they don't care about ag business. To answer Mr. Myron's question, yes people are concerned about the current trend of businesses closing and leaving Vermillion. That is why they don't want to see the city be so shortsighted by spending $1.3 million on four blocks of street when those improvements could be accomplished for much less and the cost savings used to further economic and job development in ALL of Vermillion.
SPIN #6: If we don't go forth with this decades-old plan we don't have faith in our former city employees. That, of course, is not the case. The employees who originally worked on this plan did not have a crystal ball. They had no way of knowing that land use in the affected area would change dramatically. They had no way of knowing how many homes will be built near this proposed truck route. They had no way of knowing that we would build a new bike path and nature area adjacent to it. They had no way of knowing that construction and lighting methods would change. They had no way of knowing what Vermillion's other economic development needs would be.
No one is criticizing them, but ignoring these changes and going forth with blinders on is not the correct approach. Having faith that former city staff and council people looked at alternatives during former times is fine; ignoring that times have changed is not fine. It is time for leadership that can look forward instead of looking back.
Our mayor recently held a public information meeting on the history of the Chestnut Street project. We thank him for this because the more the public becomes aware of what was involved in this old decision, the more they are speaking out against the excess of this project. At that meeting, only 29 percent of those who spoke were in favor of going ahead with this project.
The vast majority, 71 percent, either urged the mayor and council to look at less costly alternatives or asked that the taxpayers be given the right to vote on this project. Over 600 citizens have signed petitions or letters asking the city to look at alternatives to the proposed design or asking for the right to vote on the issue.
The mayor and council have the ability to allow a vote on this project. Will they let the citizens of Vermillion decide their own economic fate, or will they turn that decision-making over to lawyers, judges and juries by denying taxpayers the right to vote and suing the adjacent homeowners? Will they choose to spend thousands of YOUR dollars in court defending an almost 20-year old decision before looking at current alternatives? Will they spend YOUR money to deny YOU the right to vote?
In conclusion, it is time for Vermillion to move forward. Times have changed since well-intentioned individuals proposed this massive project. We can choose to be mired in the past, or we can work together to make Vermillion a great place to live and safely raise our children.
Neil & Lynette Melby
We will be well served by Johnson
To the editor:
What a pleasure it was to attend Tim Johnson's combined homecoming and formal announcement of his candidacy for the U.S. Senate. The Vermillion community is proud of Tim, pleased with his work in the Senate and gratified that he retains his respect for the common man, and the common good.
He has consistently tried to improve access to proper health care for all; pushed for positive legislation for the people of South Dakota and the nation, and I am confident he will continue to do so.
And it was good to see Barbara, who has been fighting her own battle with cancer � and helping so many others as they face that problem.
So, it's hats off to Tim and his family. The coming years will not be easy, but we will be well served to have such a tried and true voice of the people speaking out bravely and honestly for education, Social Security, Medicare, agriculture, etc.