Schools play role in economic success

By

Ask the Register

March 6, 2019 - 11:08 AM

Iola’s ability to attract and retain a strong business community and potential outcomes of a successful school bond vote in April form the centerpiece of this week’s Ask The Register question.

Iolan Gary Cardell writes: “How’s the City Council attracting new business? Are there plans if the bond issue doesn’t increase growth??

The question was posed both to Iola Mayor Jon Wells and City Administrator Sid Fleming, both of whom spoke about the city’s multi-pronged approach to economic development.

To observe what the city can offer today, one must look first at Iola’s history, Wells noted, because Iola has been blessed in the past with what he described as “visionary” leaders.

They were the ones who put in place an infrastructure that provides the city with multiple assets, in particular its utilities, the mayor continued.

For example, because Iola can generate its own electricity during peak demand time, the city traditionally has been able to procure electricity at a cheaper rate than it otherwise would spend.

That, in turn, has allowed Iola to develop and maintain its own enterprise funds, which in turn have been used to supplement Iola’s annual budget and maintain a lower property tax levy than most neighboring communities.

“I think you’ll find our electric, water and gas rates, and our mill levy are really competitive, if not better, than most places,” Wells said.

Wells also praised the makeup of the existing council, which is comprised of what he terms as both conservative and progressive members.

But there is room for improvement, Wells acknowledged.

Since the 2007 flood destroyed a series of steam-powered generators at Iola’s water plant, the city lacked the capacity to be considered a full-fledged “generating” community. In order to retain that designation, Iola has purchased electric capacity from neighboring towns, such as Chanute, each year.

Wells has been an advocate of seeing Iola take steps to restore its own generating capacity.

Several options have been discussed, including paying for additional natural-gas powered generators or teaming with Westar to install solar panels. (A feasibility study on the solar option is due to be returned to the Council sometime soon.)

Ideally, the savings from no longer having to purchase the added capacity will make up for the cost of installing new generators, Wells concluded.

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