APWA’s Small Cities/Rural Communities Forum has big day on Capitol Hill

 

Beth Denniston

APWA staff

 

It was a big day on Capitol Hill for APWA’s Small Cities/Rural Communities Forum. And it marked a “first” in the Forum’s efforts to bring the issues of smaller jurisdictions’ public works departments to the federal legislative and regulatory table.

 

During the whirlwind day, March 14, 2000, Andy Haney, chair of APWA’s newest group, the Small Cities/Rural Communities Forum, sharpened Congressional focus on the problems and challenges of public works departments in small and rural communities.

 

First, Haney participated in a news conference that was part of the kickoff activities for the revitalization of the Congressional Rural Caucus.

 

The Congressional Rural Caucus is a bipartisan coalition of members of the House of Representatives that is committed to: promoting economic and social policies that support the continued viability of rural communities; ensuring that adequate resources are directed toward the development of rural communities during this time of an expanding global economy; educating members of Congress about the challenges and opportunities unique to rural areas; assisting members of the Caucus in addressing district-specific problems directly related to rural communities; and cooperating with members and member organizations representing under-served urban communities that face similar concerns, challenges, and opportunities as rural communities.

 

Co-chairs of the Caucus are Representatives Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) and Eva Clayton (D-NC). Membership Recruitment co-chairs are Representatives Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Earl Pomeroy (D-ND). Representative Moran introduced Haney at the press conference and spent time discussing issues with him before and after the event.

 

Haney’s remarks to the press called attention to APWA’s survey of smaller department leaders that identified the following top five public works challenges:

 

·        Providing adequate storm sewers

·        Maintaining roads

·        Building or updating sanitary sewers

·        Keeping up with other water quality and watershed management activities

·        Ensuring safe drinking water

 

“We [public works directors] want to live up to the laws and regulations to meet these challenges, but some are too expensive for our communities to support; others just don’t seem appropriate to our conditions,” Haney, who is public works director for Ottawa, KS, population 12,000, declared.

 

He gave the following example of the inequitable burden that unfunded mandates and strict regulations can create for smaller departments. “To provide the required wastewater plant for my small town will cost around $8 million over a 20-year period. By the time it is paid for, it will more than likely be obsolete. By comparison,” he said, “the same facility at the same cost is required for a city with a population four times bigger where they can spread the per capita cost over a bigger number of people.”

 

He stressed the need for funding assistance through grants and loans and praised Congress for its efforts to get a new Airport Improvement Program (AIP) passed. Haney urged Congress to keep AIP dollars flexible so small airports could use them to fill a wide variety of needs including taxiways, ramps, terminals, and parking.

 

Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) participated in the news conference. He endorsed the revitalization of the Caucus and emphasized the need to cut estate taxes. Co-Chair Emerson pointed out that rural communities lack the infrastructure needed “to attract new and high-tech businesses and they don’t have the resources needed to invest in the infrastructure.” Co-Chair Clayton said the Caucus would advocate for more resources for education, transportation, healthcare, housing, water and sewer facilities, and information technology in rural America. Membership Co-Chair Moran spoke of the diminishing population in rural communities and the economic impact it has on health, education, and jobs. Other Representatives making statements included Charles W. Stenhold (D-TX), Nancy Johnson (R-CT), Wes Watkins (R-OK), David Minge (D-MN), and John M. Shimkus (R-IL).

 

Besides APWA, others that spoke of the needs of smaller communities at the news conference included: National Rural Electric Cooperative Association; Ozark Action, Inc., West Plains, MO; Wilson County Improvement Association, Wilson, NC; Metropolitan Housing and Community Development Corporation, Washington, NC; First Book, a national nonprofit; National Association of Counties; Communicating for Agriculture, Winner, SD; American Association of School Administrators; and the Mayor of Hutchinson, KS.

 

Later in the day, Haney spent time in Representative Jim R. Ryun’s (R-KS) office where he reiterated his morning messages. (Ryun’s district includes Ottawa, KS.)

 

Concluding the day, Haney attended a Congressional Reception for members and members-to-be of the Rural Caucus and representatives of Associations that support the interests of rural America. More than 400 people were in attendance and Haney had the opportunity to speak to several more members of the House of Representatives and their staffs. APWA provided information about the Association and the Small Cities/Rural Communities Forum for a table display at the reception.

 

A group in which APWA staff participates, the National Rural Network, assisted the Congressional Rural Caucus with the kickoff event. For more information on the Congressional Rural Caucus or the National Rural Network, explore their web sites at: http://www.nationalruralnetwork.org and http://house.gov/emerson/crc. For more information on APWA’s Small Cities/Rural Communities Forum, contact Beth Denniston in APWA’s Washington Office, 202-408-9541.