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By Miranda GilbertCommunity Development
(Guymon, Okla.) — Guymon’s progress and current issues were highlighted on this week’s “Oklahoma Forum” aired on OETA Sunday, Aug. 31. Mayor Kim Peterson sat down with host Dick Pryor and Mangum Mayor Donnie Wiggins to discuss how rural cities in Oklahoma are comparing or contrasting to urban areas in the state. “While Washington struggles to govern and states try to deal with a need for services and not enough money, cities have become an important driver of innovation and economic development,” Pryor said while introducing the show’s topic. “Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Broken Arrow and Norman are among cities often cited among the best in the US for various factors, but those are urban and suburban cities. How are cities in rural areas doing?” Pryor went on to say that a trip around Oklahoma exposes a hard truth as some cities are prospering while some cities are just hanging on. “But increasingly, innovation, economic development and policy change is occurring in cities and towns driven by a competitive spirit, desire to thrive and often, necessity,” he said. He addresses Mayor Kim Peterson saying, “When we talk about growing, rural areas Guymon ranks right up there” and asks, “but it isn’t all about hog farms, is it?” Addressing our diversity and booming economy, Mayor Peterson shared the additional developments that spun off of Seaboard Foods opening their hog plant in the area years ago. “In addition to that, they’ve also pioneered and built a biodiesel plant that they produce about 30 million gallons of biodiesel a year from the fat and tallow off the hogs and also off of beef from other beef plants,” Mayor Peterson said. “Seaboard’s just recently put in a very large CNG truck stop across from their plant, and last week I think they made the first trip with the CNG truck all the way to the west coast to deliver their exports.”“We’re looking at: wind farms are coming in, we’re looking at a possibility of a high tension transmission line from the Oklahoma Panhandle to western Tennessee that will be fueled or powered mostly by wind power, but also with conventional fuel, or conventional sources, when the wind is not blowing,” Mayor Peterson added. The drought was discussed in regards to the hardships it has caused for agriculture, but also drinking water shortages in some areas of the state. Host Pryor addressed Guymon’s uniqueness from the rest of the state in regards to the water aquifer. Mayor Peterson said we depend on the underground Ogallala Aquifer, and city fathers prior to him bought land to develop well fields and that the citizens of Guymon have been good about self-rationing the water. He went on to say the Oklahoma Water Resources Board had some drought disaster grants available last year and we applied and received $200,000 to assist drilling a new well. “Those things are not unnoticed by our citizens,” Mayor Peterson said in regards to the water issues and the grant. “Water is very crucial to our life. The Panhandle, we are like [Mangum] we depend on agriculture, cattle, of course the pork industry, our irrigation for our crops –because we feed the world.”The drought has also cost cities money in relation to infrastructure. “The drought’s caused problems because the ground drying out and shifting, or when it’s real dry and we get a freeze you have more problems, but it’s an ongoing problem with every city in the state,” Mayor Peterson said, adding that water line replacement costs are so expensive the city faces making repairs. Another important topic was how municipalities juggle costs of repairs and needs of the residents with utilities and sales tax.“What are other issues for Western Oklahoma cities? When you get together with other mayors, what do you talk about,” Host Pryor asked.“Probably one of the biggest things we talk about is revenue streams. A lot of my local citizens don’t understand it, but in Oklahoma cities and towns are funded either through owning utilities and the services they provide or through sales tax. We get no money from county taxes or property taxes. We don’t get a penny from that,” Mayor Peterson said. “The concerns we’ve got that I have visited with mayors about is that with budget constraints on the state level and the federal level, they tend to start charging fees to make up those budget shortfalls, so we’re paying higher fees for certain services that the state and federal government provide to us.”Mayor Wiggins echoed that and added that those fees and depending on water when water line breaks and infrastructure repairs adding up make it hard each year come budget time. In regards to innovation and technology for rural areas, Mayor Peterson reported that Guymon is probably at the forefront with the rural coop [PTCI] buying General Telephone out years ago and becoming the first community to have DSL in town and how they have since increased and upgraded. “I think in the next five years every home in Guymon will have fiber optics to the house,” he said. “AT&T and Panhandle Telephone have entered into a cooperative agreement to share providing of service for the Panhandle, which AT&T has never done. And we’re going to a 4G network for the whole Panhandle.” He added that this will help communication with those who travel from other areas and into the Panhandle as well. Another topic included the competitive but cooperative economic development tactics of our area and incentives that help growth, yet the housing shortage that goes along with it. Mayor Peterson reported Guymon’s recent housing study showed an immediate need for 500 homes, and he would like to see major employers jump on board to help with housing incentives and financing with some of the major employers workforce commuting from as far as 100 miles away. And while Guymon’s need for housing is clear, the negotiations of securing developers to meet that need in a rural area is more complex when competing with urban areas. “Housing is a challenge. Part of that challenge is the fact that having the land to develop to build the houses on is very expensive now days, but also the sheer economy of building out in our part of the world. We don’t have quite the skilled labor force as far as carpenters, plumbers –we have some, but not to do it on a value basis or a larger scale,” Mayor Peterson said. “One of the bigger things is, with a lot of the developers we have visited with, is the incentives to develop land is more in the metro areas because they can buy 100 acres and within a year it’s all sold and full of houses. And in our part of the world it depends on the economy so much.” Pryor mentioned in terms of policy, the state law has prevented municipalities from doing certain things at the local level such as recently prohibiting municipalities from raising minimum wage, “is that something that that you would like to see changed? Would you like to see more local control of various issues such as that?” Mayor Peterson responded by highlighting Guymon’s contrast to that idea by saying, “We really don’t have a big issue with that, because anyone that wants to work, is working.” He added, “Most of our employers around town pay above minimum wage anyway without being forced to because there is such a shortage of labor so you have to fit in with the market.”To view more of the discussion, or OETA’s “Oklahoma Forum” in its entirety check your local guide, visit www.oeta.tv or the City of Guymon’s Facebook, Twitter, YouTube channel or the website www.guymonok.org News Center.
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