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1980s brought city growth

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by Karen E. Culp

SBJ Staff

Most remember the years since 1980 in city government in Springfield as being those that will shape the next 20 years. Longtime City Manager Don Busch, who held that position from 1971 to 1989, said he sees the past 19 years in the city as a period of significant growth in its infrastructure.

"I think we were trying to improve the city's overall infrastructure. There were a lot of annexations during that time period and lots of improvements to sewers and roadways," Busch said.

During the latter portion of the period, the city would begin its visioning process and would start work on such long-term projects as its capital improvements program enabled by a quarter-cent tax passed in 1989, sewering the entire city and, in the past few years, on the Civic Park project.

Annexations added a total of about eight square miles to the city between 1980 and 1999: the city's total square mileage in 1980 was 66 square miles and in 1999 it stands at 74.1, with two annexations pending before council.

Longtime public servant Jim Payne, who was mayor of Springfield during the 1970s and is now a Greene County commissioner, remembers the city reaching 100,000 residents just before 1980. He also remembers the passage of a 1-cent sales tax that is now the city's most significant funding source.

"We had to get some revenue for our city because the federal government had stopped supporting municipalities. We passed the 1-cent tax in 1978 and it's been onward and upward ever since," Payne said.

When Payne left office as mayor in 1978, he was succeeded by Dr. Paul Redfearn, who served until 1981. Successive mayors included Harry C. Strawn until 1983, George Scruggs until 1987, Tom Carlson until 1993, N.L. McCartney until 1995, and Lee Gannaway, who continues to serve.

Busch and current City Manager Tom Finnie have been the only city managers in the period from 1980 until the present.

Busch remembers great strides in the city's park system and infrastructure.

Many who have served in city government listed the quarter-cent tax as one of the most significant measures passed in the period since 1980. Enacted in 1989 and renewed in elections since then, the tax has funded special capital improvements around the city.

Carlson was mayor when the city moved its offices into the former Jewell Station Post Office, now known as the Donald G. Busch Municipal Building. Occupied in 1989, the building fostered a sense of community-oriented government, Carlson said.

"The policies that Tom Finnie has initiated with making the city's services accessible have been reflected in that building. It is a tremendous facility in that it is open and accessible for any citizen to walk in and conduct their business with the city," Carlson said.

The advent of public-private partnerships during the period since 1980 is also significant, many say. Though such partnerships have long existed, they probably weren't termed thusly, or used as frequently, until the past 10 to 15 years, Carlson said.

One of the results of such partnerships has been the formation of the Partnership Industrial Center, in which the city collaborated with City Utilities, the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce and the Springfield Business and Development Corporation.

That industrial center, developed in 1993, was partially in response to the pull-out of Zenith in the early 1990s, which displaced 1,000 workers.

Mayor Gannaway remembers the city, and everyone, trying to "stay alive and get things going again" in 1980 following a long period when economic development had been at a standstill.

"During the Carter administration, we were facing devastating interest rates and horrible inflation. Folks were really feeling their way along," Gannaway said.

Gannaway recognizes 1980 as the point when healthy economic growth began again in the city, he said.

A few notable elections, in addition to the quarter-cent tax were held. A vote in 1994 defeated a bias crimes penalty ordinance, which would have required investigations with regard to bias in criminal arrests. Carolyn Gerdes, who was on council from 1984 to 1997, was in favor of the ordinance.

"It was the fact that the ordinance listed 'sexual preference' as a potential for bias that got people upset," Gerdes said.

Gerdes said she also remembers an ordinance to prohibit smoking in public buildings that passed during her tenure on council.

In 1991, the city passed a $57.5 million series of bonds to build a water line to Stockton Lake to ensure the city's water supply for the future, said John Twitty, deputy general manager at City Utilities.

An initiative to create an entertainment zone in 1994 failed, but in 1996, the city passed an ordinance to create an eighth-cent sales tax for intersection improvements.

The failure of the entertainment zone was significant at the time, but Frank Evans, who chaired the campaign committee for the effort, thinks the initiative passed in 1998, to fund Civic Park and a wildlife museum, among other items, will accomplish much of what the entertainment zone would have.

"I think the time is right now for some of those things to develop that we talked about when we were working toward the entertainment zone initiative. I think the hotel-motel tax increase is an example of the public supporting increasing tourism in the area," Evans said.

Nearly all who spoke about the past 19 years in city government pointed to Vision 20/20, which began in the mid-1990s.

"I think that vision for the future is what will drive us on into the next 20 years and keep us ahead. What we got from that process was the citizens saying, 'this is what we see ahead for our city[[In-content Ad]]

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