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Matta takes reins as new city commissioners officially begin terms

By Corene Brisendine

New Mayor John Matta Tuesday came to terms with one city initiative he had previously criticized, while offering up a second initiative borrowed from an unsuccessful candidate in the recent election.

Matta, who ascended to the mayoral chair during a re-organization that also saw Karen McCulloh and Usha Reddi replace Loren Pepperd and Jim Sherow on that body, used part of his introductory speech to reconcile himself to the downtown redevelopment project. Noting his own view that the debt resulting from that project had been unnecessary and that money could have been spent on other things such as infrastructure, he acknowledged that “financial indicators show the project meeting its obligations,” and conceded that “the developments have made Manhattan a regional shopping draw.”  It is, he added, “our job now to manage this project to a successful conclusion.”

Matta urged the city to continue its support for local business owners. “These are the people that are the backbone of a community,” he said.  “They are the true heroes.  They create new wealth and jobs.”

He singled out three such entrepreneurs, the Levin family, which runs Varneys, Ward Morgan, owner of CivicPlus, and Dave Dreiling, owner of GTM. Both of the latter two have recently announced significant local expansions. Matta said Manhattan needed to continue supporting these types of businesses because the “self interest and community interest align” with these owners.

The new initiative, which Matta suggested would command more than a little attention during his tenure, involved consolidation of governmental services, a theme pushed during the recent campaign by Bob Strawn, an unsuccessful candidate. Matta did not go as far as Strawn had in campaigning for exploration of governmental mergers. But he did say that initiatives designed to promote consolidation of services would constitute one way “to bend the cost curve (of government) in favor of the community.”

He said the city and county need to sit down — perhaps as soon as Thursday’s inter-governmental meeting — and find ways to provide a “wholesale” government to the entire community — Riley County as well as Manhattan.

While Matta said he was not 100 percent supportive of consolidation, he thought it would be in the best interest of the community in order to save taxpayers money by eliminating redundancies in local governments.

In addition, Matta said he wanted to maintain an emphasis on neighborhood atmosphere by creating a comprehensive plan for Manhattan that creates mixed-use developments such as downtown, where residential and shopping districts were combined, allowing people to walk to and from home and businesses.

Matta said the city needed to do more to make housing more affordable. That, he said, means looking at building codes and regulations. He said Manhattan has historically maintained the highest level of building codes, but suggested maintaining that level may have kept smaller businesses from developing property while spurring growth and development through larger corporations that could absorb the initial cost of construction, but ultimately pass those costs on to the homeowner.

He said commissioners needed to “look past the rhetoric” before approving more regulations on building codes.

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