‘More than just the overpass’
Marion mayor outlines far- reaching plans for bond money
A proposed railroad overpass isn’t the only item Marion voters will be deciding on in the upcoming bond election.
Voters will also have a say on whether Marion Police Department gets new digital radios and a new evidence storage shed; a new or renovated Fire Station 1 for the Fire Department; a new water department; a much needed addition at the Woolfolk Library; and bike paths and bigger dugouts and other cosmetic work at the city’s ball fields.
Officials are hoping those other projects don’t get lost or overshadowed in the debate over the overpass.
“I think the overpass will make people go vote,” said Mayor Frank Fogleman. “That is the driving topic that will get people to the polling place. But I certainly don’t want them to lose sight of these other needs. It’s for more road overlay. It’s for police.
It’s for fire. It’s for parks.
It’s for water and sewer.
It’s for the library. So there is a lot more than just the overpass.”
Marion is asking voters to approve refinancing old bonds for another 30 years in order to pay for a new round of capital improvements, one of which is a railroad overpass connecting Hwy. 77 to Military Road. The bonds were issued in the early 1980s and voters have approved refinancing them over the years — the last time in 2006 — to pay for projects such as building the Sports Complex, sewer pond improvements, an office at the animal shelter, road overlays, water tank, new police station, and Fire Station No. 3.
Voters will be presented with seven separate questions to approve which will raise $16 million: $12.185 million for street improvements; $2.385 million for the Fire Department; $1.075 million for parks; $815,000 for water projects; $635,000 for police; $360,000 for sewer; and $220,000 for the library.
Fogleman said while the bulk of the money will be used to build the railroad overpass which is expected to cost about $10 million, the money will also be used to improve Military Road.
The state highway department will be widening Military Road to four lanes and adding bike lanes.
While the widening will be paid for by the state, Fogleman said the city also plans to add new landscaping, lighting, and a decorative arch to Military Road as part of its efforts to revitalize the downtown area.
“Everybody drives Military Road at some point,” Fogleman said. “So it’s not just for the overpass.
We need this to pass in order to do the things we want to do on Military Road.”
Widening Military Road may cause the city to lose the city annex building where the water department currently is, which would necessitate finding a new building for that department.
“The expectation is that whatever the highway department’s final design is, at the very minimum the parking in front of the annex is toast,” Fogleman said. “The building may remain. But given the large number of visitors who come to the water department on any day, many use that parking. If that is gone, then we will need to move the water department.”
Fogleman said the city is also studying whether to build a new Fire Station No. 1 or to add on to the building.
The existing building on Military Road isn’t big enough to accommodate a ladder truck.
“When we first started the conversation (Fire Chief Woody Wheeless) felt it might be a good idea to move the fire station west of the Interstate to somewhere between Airport Road and the Interstate,” Fogleman said.
“He feels like there are more buildings that would need that ladder truck between the railroad tracks and the Interstate and to have the ladder truck positioned between those would serve his needs better than where it is currently stationed. Right now it is at (Station 3) where it will fit.”
Fogleman said Wheeless has some concerns though about putting a station at Airport Road because he doesn’t have many firefighters who live on that side of Marion.
“His volunteers would have to go through “Malfunction
Junction,” get the
equipment, and come back,” Fogleman said. “So he is studying it. But if we don’t build a new station he wants to add on to the existing one so he can be able to house a ladder truck.”
The money could also be used to purchase 17 new oxygen masks and possibly a new pumper truck.
Another pressing need is new radios and an evidence storage shed for the police department.
Fogleman said the current radios are analog and the department needs to upgrade
its system to digital.
“He (Chief Gary Kelley) has a quote to replace all of the radios,” Fogleman said.
“So if we can make the switch all at once it is better than just trying to do ten percent of the radios this year and ten percent the next.”
The department is also out of storage space for evidence and all of the paperwork it is required to hang on to.
The city will either build a new shed across the street from the police station or possibly fit one on the southwest corner of the old city shop.
“A storage building is near the top of his needs list,” Fogleman said. “They are just running out of space.”
The Parks and Recreation Department plans to use the money from the bond to make improvements to the city’s ballfields and to develop more bicycle trails.
About two years ago the city partnered with the high school to enlarge the dugout and add a decorative backstop at the girl’s softball field.
Fogleman said the plan is to do similar upgrades to the remaining four ballfields.
“We significantly enlarged the dugouts and put a cinderblock wainscoting behind the catcher and umpire,” Fogleman said. “It spiffed it up and I thought it looked nice. I’ve been to Oxford, Mississippi and all of their youth fields have a similar appearance to them.
Our fields are approaching 20 years old and I think some cosmetic work will make them competitive and in the same feel of what is becoming more common today. And there may be a slab poured for batting cages — just some enhancements that weren’t there in the 1990s.”
The last item is for an expansion for the Woolfolk Library.
Fogleman said the library continues to see the number of users grow and has no more room for employees to receive and unpack books.
“They have put so many books on the shelves and there is no more workspace,” Fogleman said. “So the general idea is to add an addition to the east end of the building. It is a big deal for the library and we are hoping the public will support that as well.”
Fogleman is reminding voters that this election is not for a new tax. A yes vote on each of the seven questions would extend an existing one cent tax.
“It is a tax that has been on the books a long time,” Fogleman said. “I hope people will see and understand that these are things we need. It’s not frivolous.
I get that the overpass is uppermost in their minds.
But we are dealing with police and fire and parks. This is infrastructure improvements. It’s for everybody.
We need these other things too.”
The election will be held on March 14. Early voting starts Feb. 27.
By Mark Randall