The Farmington Regional Chamber of Commerce hosted the annual “state of the city” during the monthly luncheon Thursday. Farmington Mayor Larry Forsythe introduced City Administrator Greg Beavers to those in attendance. Forsythe was serving on the city council in 2000 when Beavers was hired. “I’ve worked with him for a few years now … I’m very proud of Greg,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I ran for mayor because I knew I had the personnel behind me to help me with the experience that I don’t have to build the experience that I need to help run the city.”
Beavers gave a snapshot of what is going on in the community – and a look at what is ahead. He said he wanted to focus on questions received by city hall, plus information valuable to those attending the luncheon to help build business. He spoke about the MC Power solar farm under construction off Korber Road near Route H. The solar farm is expected to be commissioned on Dec. 13 and is expected to begin producing “good solar energy” around February.“It’s a 15-acre development … 2.5 megawatts,” he said.The addition of the solar farm became important for Farmington when industrial development consultants highlighted the importance of being able to “check the box” as being a sustainable community. Beavers also referenced the “unnamed complex being built out by Engler Park.”
“When (the complex) is fully operational next year, they will be 100 percent solar,” Beavers said. “We think that will be a great story to tell.” Forty percent of the energy used by the industrial park will provided by solar. “Having and demonstrating environmental stewardship, environmentally responsive operations, is very important,” he added. The cost to the city is the interconnect expense and not the construction of the farm. “Gardner Capital/MC Power (will) own the generating facility,” he said. “They fund it through tax credits.” He noted First State Community Bank loaned money for the project – giving the funding a local connection. Gardner Capital has a power purchasing agreement with MoPEP Energy Group, the purchasing pool of which the city is a member and purchases its electricity for distribution and resale to residential and commercial customers through the city-owned infrastructure. “It’s not free electricity. That’s the biggest question I get from folks. It isn’t free,” he said. “The fuel source for operating the farm is free. But the capital cost on a solar farm is very high relative to the energy production.” He noted it is more expensive than coal, wind and nuclear energy production.
Beavers also spoke on the proposed J-turn for U.S. 67 also related to the ongoing construction near Engler Park along Perrine Road. “We are very concerned about the trafficability of that intersection,” he said. “We’re expecting upwards of 700 employees when that new development occurs.” Beavers explained motorists will be unable to cross one lane of traffic to head to either north- or south-bound U.S. 67, as it is presently designed. “You will no longer be able to cross at U.S. 67 along Perrine Road,” he said. “If you need to go from Engler Park to US Tool, you will exit to the north, turn and come back to the south and exit onto the west. There are no left turns out the intersection is the best way to say it.” He admits the turns can be a little “cumbersome” – but the traffic fatality safety information for this type of inspection is “incredible.” The administrator said the number of fatalities is reduced during test periods at the J-turn intersections by 85 percent, with an equivalent number for serious crashes as well. “Total crashes are reduced significantly,” he said. “Serious injury accidents are reduced significantly.” Beavers said the city has been in negotiations with MoDOT about making improvements at the location, with the city committing $200,000 of local funds toward the expected $1.2 million project.
During the address he also noted the positive strength of the economic indicators for Farmington. Those indicators include sales tax revenue, assessed real property valuation, new construction permits, assessed valuation, unemployment rate, median household income and median home value. In the area of sale tax revenue, Beavers said, the retail sales revenue, with a static sales tax rate, is growing. “We (had) a six-year period where there was no more or less retail sales on an annual basis. As businesses came into town the amount of available (revenue to draw from) wasn’t growing,” he said. “We’re not in that position anymore. We have growth on the magnitude of about four percent per year on retail sales.” The total current assessed valuation for 2017 is at slightly more than $213 million as of July 1 – which has shown steady growth over the past five years, he said. The property tax rate in the city of .4811 has remained unchanged for several years. Beavers said the number of new construction permits is one of the best indicators for growth. “Last year, we added 73 new dwelling units,” he said, noting 47 of those were new homes. Within the 63640 zip code, there are almost 27,000 “and it’s continuing to grow.”
“The growth outside of the city – adjacent to Farmington – is as much as inside the city limits of Farmington,” he said. “There’s still business opportunity for you to capitalize on out there and grow on.” The unemployment rate – according to the most recent data provided by the Southeast Missouri Regional Planning Commission – shows the city at 5.4 percent. “I don’t think Farmington has ever been under 5.4 percent unemployment,” Beavers said. “Farmington and St. Francois County is always a point higher than the state (average).” Beavers noted the only concerning factor when it comes to employment is the available work force for the county has dropped to 27,000 from 34,000. “Almost 10 percent of the workforce has either aged out and retired or just dropped out of the workforce,” he said, which could be problematic for industries and companies coming in the area. The median income in the city is about $48,000, with the average around $51,000 – close to the state average of $54,000. The median home value has grown in the last five years to $122,000, up from $115,000.
In relation to infrastructure, Beavers highlighted work including the $7 million of improvements to the city’s sewer system. Ongoing work on that project includes the installation of the interceptor main along Karsch Boulevard for the east sewer treatment plant on Highway 32. Other work includes improvements at the west sewer treatment plant near Perrine Road and U.S. 67, as well as using cast-in-place pipe for replacement of the downtown sewer lines. “All of the (clay tile) mains in our downtown have been replaced,” he said, noting $1 million is being spent for that – a large part coming from the downtown Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, district. Other projects include the Woodlawn substation and street replacement and resurfacing around town.
The administrator invited everyone to get involved in city government at some level through volunteering for one of many committees. State Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, served as mayor when Beavers was hired. Twenty years ago, Engler said, the city relied on the electric department as the main source of revenue. “The electric department netted over a million dollars a year, and we ran most things off that revenue,” he said. “All the big purchases came off that revenue.” Engler said now the main drive for the community is through the sales tax revenue. “That’s what drives it now. Over 60 percent of that sales tax revenue comes from people that live outside of the city … that’s a big shift.”