The Park Hills-Leadington Chamber of Commerce received an update on the vision of the current Park Hills administration from City Administrator Mark McFarland during the chamber’s investor meeting Tuesday.
McFarland began his presentation by expressing the need for people to step up and get involved with their communities in whatever capacity they are able.
“Every person needs to step up and make a difference in the world around them,” he said. “If it’s just their local block or their community, people need to be involved. And I’m very glad to see you folks involved in the chamber of commerce because we need you.”
McFarland then described the path that has brought him to serving as city administrator, beginning with his election to the position of Ward 3 alderman in Elvins in 1983, alongside current Park Hills Mayor Daniel Naucke.
“I got to know Danny really well,” McFarland said. “As time went on, he ended up running for mayor and served two terms. I served 10 years on the Elvins Board of Aldermen and then consolidation came up.”
McFarland said the four communities involved in the consolidation each put forward representatives for a consolidation committee, which he was elected chairman of. The committee was tasked with setting up the new city’s government and naming the city.
“Once that happened, I ran for mayor and lost by between 7 and 11 votes,” he said. “Then I ran for council and got it. I served for 10 years on the Elvins board, then 10 more years on the City of Park Hills board.”
During his and Naucke’s time on the council in Elvins, McFarland said they were able to accomplish establishing housing codes that helped to raise the standard of structures in city limits, which has helped to keep Park Hills clean over the years.
“A second thing we tried to do in the old city was to annex St. Joe State Park,” he said. “That was Mayor Naucke’s idea. But we couldn’t do it, because we weren’t big enough. But when we were both on the city council of Park Hills, we brought it back up.”
He said the reason for the annexation was because of Park Hills’ location in relation to other towns.
“The City of Park Hills is pretty much landlocked,” he said. “We’ve got Desloge to our north, Leadington to our east, the state park to our south and nothing to our west that was worth trying to develop. The only corridor we had was Parkway Drive, which the City of Flat River had thought far enough ahead to spend $1 million to put the bridge there and get a little [U.S.] 67 frontage.”
Next, McFarland spoke about the work being done to improve Park Hills’ downtown area. He said he’d once heard a city official state that Park Hills would only ever be a residential area and that there was no use working to attract businesses.
“I disagreed with him at the time and I still disagree with him,” he said. “Yes, the downtown area is not like it should be. Nobody’s downtown area is. Walmart saw to that back in the 70s and 80s. But you can’t give up on your downtown. The chamber of commerce is working to get people to look at the downtown area. And we’re pushing to promote it.
“If you spruce up your downtown, it will be more desirable for people to come in,” he said. “Maybe we’ll get some small shops. So what if they don’t set the world on fire. As long as they can make a decent living and we have businesses there, that’s all we ask for.”
McFarland also discussed the recent council action that raised the limit of trash bags from two to four, which is expected to also help keep the city clean.
“A lot of people have complained about the trash bag limits,” he said. “Since the 90s, we’ve had a two-bag limit for individuals’ homes. Mayor Naucke wanted to raise it to three. He brought it to the council, and the council said, ‘No, we’re going to raise it to four.’”
McFarland said the increased trash limit will keep households who generate more than two bags of a trash per week from stockpiling the trash in their yards. He said the increase has been met with much thankfulness and appreciation from residents.
Next he discussed the city’s drug problem, which he said has grown out of control in recent years.
“I’ve had 3,500 students in my teaching career,” he said. “My oldest students are probably 37 or 38 years old. Of those students, I’ve probably had 55 of them that are already dead. And most of it, probably 90 percent, was due to drugs. And most of that was heroin.
“We’re going to push the Park Hills Police Department to try to address this. We want to work with the state, county and with everybody we can but this is a severe, serious issue. It’s causing all kinds of burglaries and everything else. We want to do what we can to stop that.”
McFarland discussed a ballot issue which will come before voters in November, which will attempt to establish a use tax so that cities can collect sales tax on goods purchased via the internet.
He also expressed a wish to further simplify city building codes to encourage new construction and growth.
“It’s hurting people,” he said. “People say they don’t want to build in our town anymore because it’s so difficult. We want to simplify our code. We want safe buildings, but we want to be easier to work with.”
McFarland closed by saying the City of Park Hills is open to working with other nearby cities to try and improve the overall quality of life in St. Francois County.
“Anything we can do with the other cities to benefit the community as a whole in St. Francois County, we’re willing to work with them,” he said. “What we want to do is to make life better for everybody in St. Francois County and in our communities.”