Dear Chamber Supporters:
Not much doubting March came in like a lamb this year…in fact the whole first week of March was mild! I know we still have some winter to bear…but once you get to March it shouldn’t be too much. Basketball fans always enjoy this time of year…conference tournaments and the NCAA Tournament to follow. Personally I’m holding out for baseball now…hope these guys get their differences ironed out soon!
City Considering Solar Panels:
In what is a sign of our times, the City of Ottawa is considering establishing a solar array to generate additional power for City customers. The idea currently being bantered would have Evergy, size and build a solar field which will allow the large energy company to take advantage of tax credits…after 7-years however, the City would have the option to purchase the facility and own and operate the array, which for the long run, potentially will lower the levelized cost of energy for local customers. The proposed project (full presentation here) would infuse the most modern solar technology which means the panels would turn with the sun…providing the most efficient and greatest output of electricity. Fields of this nature have a 25-year lifespan, and the size and scale being discussed would have enough capacity to generate 5 megawatts of power…which is enough to energize 5,500 homes a month. Pretty impressive! Obviously, the push worldwide is to generate electricity from renewable sources…I wouldn’t go so far as to say we would be on the cutting edge, but certainly in rural America, a City of our size moving this direction is both unique and noble. The location being considered is south of I-35 and east of Montana Road…in the vicinity of Proximity Park. 
Projects of this nature provide to a community not only a power source which feeds directly to customers but also creates educational opportunities and economic development. As solar technology improves, there will be the capability to add storage to the solar field…something not yet refined – but getting better all the time. Lead on City…certainly, most approve of continuing to update technology to allow our community to stay modern as a growing thriving city in Kansas. 
On a related topic…this electrical generation would have been very beneficial in February 2021 when temperatures plummeted to (as low as) 20-below zero for extended time and days. Remember the cold spell caused natural gas prices to soar causing the cost to generate energy to rise which affects the cost of purchased power. In order to recover costs of purchased electricity, the City added a surcharge to utility bills beginning in April of 2021. In December 2021, the City (aka local residents) received another and totally unexpected bill of $1.044 million from its chief source of power. Therefore, the surcharge scheduled to sunset this spring will now extend another 14-months until April of 2023. A solar array would not have eliminated this unforeseen cost…but would definitely have lowered it to local citizens. 
Here is the breakdown of the monthly surcharge for electric customers:
  • Residential – $6.00
  • Small Business – $8.00
  • City & School – $120.00
  • Street Lights – $8.00
  • Large Power – $287.00
American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA):
Staying with the City…another big-ticket item on City Commissioners plates is the spending of the federal ARPA funds, which for Ottawa, is $1.87 million – a good chunk of change. Of course, being federal funds, the list of eligible projects is limited in scope to specific categories:
  • Projects to respond to public health and negative economic impacts with respect to COVID-19.
  • Provide premium pay for employees doing essential work.
  • To the extent of revenue reduction due to COVID-19, reestablish services diminished during the most recent fiscal year.
  • Make necessary investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure.
The City becomes responsible to ensure each project they select meets the criteria and adheres to federal reporting guidelines and deadlines…the biggest of which is funds must be obligated by end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026. One thing about COVID…it infused a lot of dollars into local economies – in this space, I won’t get into the staggering inflation we are experiencing and what the causes are. Just remember free money comes with a cost!!
SPARK Funds & BASE Grants:
Another source of COVID dollars recently presented itself in the form of grant dollars through the State of Kansas. SPARK stands for Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas…BASE is Building a Strong Economy (I swear the State must employ someone to write acronyms)! BASE Grants are SPARK monies and provide funding for the following categories:
  • Development of new business parks
  • Development of infrastructure required to support business expansions
  • Renovation of existing business parks to bring them up to modern standards
  • Development of infrastructures such as railroad spurs, water, wastewater, stormwater and other utilities
  • Commercial Driveway aprons
  • Business Park signage
  • Parking facilities directly associated with business attraction projects
  • Speculative industrial office and residential space
  • Development of infrastructure related to cybersecurity investments.
The City of Ottawa tuned in BASE grant applications for a new water tower south of I-35 which would serve Proximity Park and the fast increasing residential growth occurring in south Ottawa…and for a new sewage lift station east of Ottawa on K-68 which would allow for the interstate intersection to the east to grow and develop quicker and bigger as well as additional housing in North Ottawa. Both of these projects have been on the radar screen but down on the priority list of new projects and spending…BASE Grant funds could move these up on the list and provide additional security for future growth.
February Legislative Coffee:
The February Legislative Coffee was last Saturday…few pictures here. We returned to City Hall…mainly because the broadcasting possibilities to citizen is much greater than in Memorial Auditorium – and also because of the great reduction in COVID numbers, we feel it is safer now. Here is a sampling of the questions asked and answered by legislators. Still at the foremost of voters’ minds is Kansas redistricting, spending the surplus in the Kansas coffers, the removal of sales tax from groceries, changes to the Kansas Constitution which will be put before voters this summer or fall, and many school issues including the Parents Bill of Rights. You can still see the Live Facebook of the entire event here. Next coffee is scheduled for April 2 which should be after the first adjournment…it will be a good time to see what yet must be completed and what has been accomplished so far. Hope to see you there.
Molly McGrath:
I’ve mentioned before Molly McGrath, OHS senior, (pictures here) has been interning in the Chamber office this spring…we are very pleased with her production and work. In the Chamber she has been helping with social media posts and the promotion of upcoming events. Recently she received a nice honor, winning the Optimist Scholarship award. The subject these Ottawa High School students were to respond to was “Optimism for a better tomorrow.” Molly finished second, Riley Meyerkorth finished first and Christina Soronsen was third! Here is a copy of her winning composition for those who would like to give it a read…very optimistic in my view!! 
Impact Wealth Planners:
Impact Wealth Planners, formerly Peoples Financial Advisors, hosted Chamber members for a ribbon-cutting (pictures here)…which by rights should have happened in 2021 but was prevented because of COVID. Most know Robbin Kerth, longtime community leader and advocate…when Peoples Bank officially closed, he transitioned the business to Impact Wealth Planners and moved to an office in the Halloren Building at 4th and Main Street. The biggest change Robbin made was to bring in Ryan Wilkerson who now has purchased the business…and, maybe more importantly, has changed the focus from not just investing, but financial planning for the future. Something every young person should begin as soon as they start their careers. Ryan understands the freedom and relief a well-thought-out financial strategy can have, as well as the impact it creates…wise words!
Make sure you have Monday evening at 6:30 on your calendar for the rescheduled O-Town reads author, Anthony Ray Hinton to speak to Ottawa citizens. He will virtually be at the Schendel Conference center at Ottawa University.
Sounds like winter is coming back sometime this weekend – UGH!
Talk to you next week…
Onward ~ John 
John Coen
Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce