A few years back the sign along the highway read "Population 8379".
That was in 1953 as I drove into McCook to attend high school. The 2010 census proudly reports that McCook, Nebraska had 7698 residents abiding.
Sixty years of essentially no growth! What happened?
A clue. I drove Grannie Annie west out past the Fair Grounds on "Q" street. We looked to the north where the McCook Schools have for years maintained a "bus barn" for the storage and maintenance of their extensive fleet of motor vehicles. It is not exactly a sightly location; a large concrete storage shed built like a tornado shelter, a big ugly square steel shed and a large steel Quonset. A port-a-potty announces the lack of a sewer connection.
No matter the comeliness of the place it is ours and we will overlook its lack of beauty in favor of function. Obviously it is a get-by-until-we-get-something-better facility.
Help is on the way. Last fall the school system purchased then-unused National Guard Armory. Located near the high school, it is built solid like a brick out-house. Best of all the drive out basement is designed for storage and maintenance of military tanks, trucks and 4X4s.
Ideal, with a little modernizing, for the pampering of the School's fleet.
Enter a local businessman/contractor (There may be more than one) who wants to buy the old school bus barn property. The school wants to sell it to do the improvements for the old armory. It is a marriage made in heaven right?
Oops there is a glitch, the property is zoned residential. No removing the existing unsightly buildings to build more needed business buildings as we find along the south side of Q street a couple of blocks west.
No sir, the only permissible building would be another attractive home as we find next door, all sandwiched in-between a couple of mobile home parks. Across the street a chain link fence and a race track. A great location for business properties, not so attractive for residential.
What to do? Well the city manager could make a request to the zoning committee to rezone that spot for business. Then the issue could become before the City Council for approval. It could all be done in a matter of days. Remember the "king makes the rules, but the king (City Council in this case) doesn't have to live by the rules!"
Remember also that a bureaucracy can hardly ever rise from lethargy to make timely decision. It is a small matter that a businessman proposing a purchase has to have the money lined up to pay for the offer. Money over time has value important to the profit motive in private enterprise but sadly lacking in any governmental agency. I'm betting on nothing happening -- we'll see.
Several years ago when she was the vice presidential candidate, I read Sarah Palin's "Going Rogue: An American Life."
Not long before, I sat on the McCook City Council when an attempt was made to annex several of the surrounding properties adjacent to the city limits.
That effort did not go well and we annexed nothing. I remind the reader of our slow growth rate over the past 60 years.
Evidently Wasilla, Alaska, was having the same kind of problem when Sarah became a member of that city council. She mentioned changing things so that adjoining properties wanted to join Wasilla and be annexed with synergistic benefit to all.
What could McCook do to change and make logical annexation of surrounding communities to the city an attractive proposition?
How about a quick and reasonable process to rezone to make building business and residential property respond to growth trends?
Current City requirements dictate a developer have all infrastructure in place and paid for before approval to build is granted. That means streets have to be paved, drains , gutters, sidewalks in place, sewer, water, gas , electrical, telephone, and cable lines all run and in place and meeting the forever-changing code. It is an expensive headache for any developer and may explain why most are reluctant to do any development within the city's three-mile zoning area. It was exactly such shenanigans by John Bingham, city manager, that killed a 20-some-acre proposed gated housing area just north of the bus barn property.
Why doesn't the city, working with an approved builder/developer do the infrastructure bit? The city has the power to tax so every resident can share in the cost of development as they also share in the largess of a larger tax base to pay for street upkeep, water, fire and police protection for that new property would bring.
Perhaps better local government would come with a restructure. What we need is the elected strong mayor form, common in Nebraska.
Council members need be elected by ward, the mayor city-wide. The hired manager would become the city administrator. Such form would bring longer tenure for the mayor who would be responsible for most decision making and bear the responsibility for those decisions. City managers/administrators come and go and are almost never local persons. What we need are persons in charge that have roots in the community and are interested in its long term welfare. We would be the better for the change and maybe the population sign on entering McCook could break the 8000 population barrier once again.
That is how I saw it.