Name: Karen Welch
Position you are running for: City Commission
Family members (e.g. spouse, children, grandchildren): Married to Gary Welch; one daughter, Brooke Istas; and one son, Patrick Baird.
How long have you lived in Arkansas City?
I am a lifelong resident of the Arkansas City/Cowley County area.
Have you served on any boards previously?
I have been involved with law enforcement and communications boards, the Traffic Safety Committee, and the Strother Field Commission.
(Editor’s note: Welch has been a city commissioner for about 16 months and currently serves as vice mayor.)
Why did you choose to run for this position?
As a lifelong resident of the Arkansas City area, I choose to serve my community.
South Central Kansas Medical Center (SCKMC) currently owes around $2 million to the City of Arkansas City in loan repayment, plus continued special assessment payments. SCKMC has promised to start repaying the city by the beginning of 2018. What steps, if any, do you think should be taken to address this issue? In general, what does the city need to do to ensure continued financial stability for SCKMC? Do you think significantly reorganizing and/or selling SCKMC should occur, and if so, why?
The hospital continues to develop new revenue sources. The hospital is very important to Arkansas City and the surrounding communities. We all should work together to make sure we maintain the quality health care our residents deserve. We all need to realize health care is an ever-changing environment.
The City of Arkansas City in 2018 will provide $75,000 to Cherokee Strip Land Rush Museum, $45,000 to Cowley First, $30,000 to the Cowley County Humane Society, $17,200 to the City-Cowley County Health Department and $10,000 to the Arkansas City Area Chamber of Commerce. Do you think any of these amounts should be increased, decreased or eliminated in future years, and if so, why?
Every year, the commission reviews requests from various organizations. These are evaluated and decisions are made based on need and available funds. Having a good quality of life in our city is very important.
The 2018 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) outlines a $4 million reconstruction project for North Summit Street from Kansas Avenue to Radio Lane. This project would impact many businesses and likely need to be paid for by issuing some debt. What is your opinion of this proposal, and why?
It should be obvious to anyone using North Summit Street that we have increased traffic and congestion there. Part of the plan would relocate poles and add a turning lane. All efforts should be made during the work phase to have access to the established businesses. Continued upkeep is necessary in all towns, as we see when we travel to other cities.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) have indicated substantial upgrades need to be made to the city’s Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP), which is more than 50 years old. A $22.25 million project is proposed over the next two years. There is cash to cover the first phase, but the second phase would require a loan similar to the one KDHE issued for the new Water Treatment Facility. Some parts of the current WWTP can be upgraded and reused. What is your opinion of this project, and why?
The Wastewater Treatment Plant project is in process. This plan will meet all regulations and requirements. Increased efficiency and output should allow us to sell water to other communities, resulting in lower water rates.
The CIP includes $500,000 annually for continued water line replacement, as well as $1.75 million in 2019 for a new water tower and redundant water line to serve Arkansas City east of the Walnut River. How much priority should these projects, as well as ongoing well rehabilitation efforts, be given in future city budgets? Should more or less money be spent on new water lines?
Most of the water lines have been replaced. Continued maintenance and upkeep should keep the plant operating for a number of years and be a working asset for our community.
The Wilson Park Master Plan has received a lot of coverage this year. Currently, the plan is to use very little city funds for this project, with the majority of the cost being paid for by private donors. Do you think the city should allocate public money to make this plan become a reality? How many years do you think it should take to complete the entire master plan improvements?
The Wilson Park Master Plan is an exciting addition to our city. As long as we have private donors and receive grants — that is how we should proceed. There are phases to this project. It will also be up to the citizens of our community to take pride in the park and help us maintain the great improvements being made to it.
The City of Arkansas City plans to transition to four-day sanitation and start a pilot curbside recycling program east of the Walnut River later this year or early next year. Would you like to see a full-blown curbside recycling program throughout the city, and if so, should it be mandatory? Alternatively, should sanitation be privatized, and if so, why?
I do not think it should be mandatory (we all hate that word). The environmental impact is what we should be looking at. We can always look at privatizing sanitation, although it is not on my radar at this time.
The City of Arkansas City plans to spend $100,000 a year for the next 10 years to tear down dangerous structures. Do you think this is too much or too little money, or should the city stop tearing down dangerous structures entirely?
We cannot stop tearing down dangerous structures. Funds will be evaluated annually. We will do what is reasonable to do. It would be nice to see residents become involved in possible remodel and rehab to aid the city in this.
City staff have indicated the need to find a new dedicated funding stream for streets to be able to do any major projects in the future, beyond very basic maintenance. A street sales tax is unlikely as long as 1.5% of the current sales tax goes to SCKMC. What do you think the City of Arkansas City should do to address this?
All options will be looked at for continued street improvements.
A $50,000 master plan study of Paris Park, Paris Park Pool, the Agri-Business Building and surrounding facilities is planned in 2018. In particular, the pool and the Ag Building need a lot of investment into deferred maintenance. What is your vision for that area? (Please be specific.)
At this time, we have a number of parks to maintain. Paris Park and the pool have been here for a long time and should continue to belong to us. The Ag Building should be evaluated, as it cannot be rented for enough to cover its upkeep.
There is a plan to complete the hike-bike trail loop in the next couple of years. What kinds of alternative transportation options (bike lanes, new sidewalks and crosswalks, hike-bike extensions, etc.) do you want to see in the future, if any, as part of a 10- or 20-year Complete Streets Plan?
At this time, we should keep our hike-bike trail loop off-road for safety issues. We need citizen input and involvement for the development of future trails.
How important is brick rehabilitation to you? How much money do you think the City of Arkansas City should spend on it? Should the city just focus on the downtown area and pave over residential streets, or address bricks equally throughout the entire community?
As street plans and repairs are made, the materials should be reviewed. Improvement to our city should be priority.
Is there anything else you would like voters to know about you or why you are seeking this position?
This has always been my home. I will continually work for the benefit of Arkansas City and its citizens. I would appreciate your support.
This information was provided by Karen Welch, current (appointed) member of and candidate for the City Commission of Arkansas City.