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Keokuk State of the City

Keokuk Mayor Tom Marion delivers the 2012 State of the City address at the Keokuk Country Club on Thursday, Feb. 16.

Keokuk’s mayor delivered his 3rd “State of the City” address during this week’s Recognition, Appreciation, and Participation Breakfast.

Job creation and finances were prominent topics during the nearly 30-minute speech.

Mayor Tom Marion decided to get the bad news out of the way early in his speech to about 75 people at the Keokuk Country Club.

He started off by looking at the city’s revenue situation, breaking down how much money comes in through property taxes, TIF districts and state and federal aid.

“So in 2009, we had receipts of $19-million while in 2010, we had $16-million,” says Marion.  “Then, in 2011, we had $15-million and this year, we are estimating $10-million.  You can see the pattern there, that the number is being reduced quite a bit.”

Marion says the biggest hit is coming from the state and federal governments, which are providing less money to Keokuk.

He says, in spite of that, the city council was able to craft a budget for next year that does not increase the property tax rate and includes money for capital projects.

“We are going to fund about $1-million worth, at least, of capital improvements,” says Marion.  “We are talking police cars.  We are buying to cars ($23,000 each) plus $10,000 to outfit them so it (the total) adds up.  We cannot have our police officers going to a 911 call and their car breaks down so they have to call a cab.”

Marion appeared to use the line for effect, but Police Chief Tom Crew says the threat of a patrol car breaking down is very real.

“We are losing transmissions and rear ends while engines are going out,” says Crew.  “I have four vehicles with more than 130,000 miles on them.  That may not seem like a lot to some people, but these cars are occupied by people pretty much 24-7.”

Crew hopes the city council will be able to continue setting aside money for new cars.

The capital budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year also includes an end-loader, a street sweeper, and body armor for half of the police department.

The tone of the speech changed as Mayor Tom Marion moved away from the issue of finances and into business recruitment.

Marion says one of the best leads for the city continues to be AMJET Turbine Systems, which has an office in the Morse Rubber building.

The company is working to develop a small-scale, hydro-electric turbine.

Marion says the head of the company, Paul Roos, believes in Keokuk.

“He is totally committed to Keokuk,” says Marion, adding “he has told me this is where it (the factory) is going to be.  He needs to raise some money, so if you have some dollars you would like to invest, give Paul a call or I will get you in touch with him.”

Keokuk and Lee County are two such investors, having put more than $300,000 into AMJET between them.

Marion says actions like that must be done.

“You can sit and wait and hope and pray, but if you don’t take some initiative, nothing is going to happen,” says Marion, “so we are happy we put that out there.  We are happy that we are trying to do something for the community.  We are crying out for jobs.”

Marion says there are also economic development opportunities involving IOMEGA, Saint Louis Gear Company, the River City Mall, and the local biodiesel and glycerin plants.

Joe Steil is Chairman of the Keokuk Economic Development Corporation and Vice Chairman of the Lee County Economic Development Group.

He says the mayor is correct in saying the region is poised for some good news.

“I think we are very close to the finish line in regards to some announcements from a Lee County point of view,” says Steil, adding, “which obviously, the trickle-down effect would have a positive impact on Keokuk itself.”

Steil says a positive attitude, a good quality of life, and solid infrastructure are important to bringing some of these projects to fruition.

Mayor Tom Marion says infrastructure will be stressed this year through street repairs and replacements, new sidewalks and sewer separations.

He says the airport is also in line for some much needed repairs.

“We have businesses coming in and out of there,” says Marion.  “There are people who come in and out of there who no one knows about because they are looking at businesses or development.  It is a big asset, a key quality of life.”

Airport Manager Greg Gobble says the facility’s longest runway is scheduled to be repaired, later this year, at a cost of roughly $6-million.

“The problem out there is that some aggregate is popping out of the concrete,” says Gobble, “which is caused by the freeze/thaw cycle up here.  What we are going to do is seal the runway and overlay it with more concrete.  I believe the elevation of the runway will raise 6”-7”.”

Gobble says the airport will use a second runway to remain open during the repairs.

The project will cost the city about $500,000.

Gobble says that amount will turn around multiple times within Keokuk through the construction jobs and the use of local services.

Mayor Tom Marion says that’s why job creation is so crucial to Keokuk’s future.

If more people are working, they have more money to spend locally.

That leads to new businesses and a boost in the tax base, which results in more money for the city and more opportunities for everyone else.

You can hear the entire speech by clicking the LISTEN tab.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.