Poised for prosperity

State Center outlines vision for growth, new opportunities

STATE CENTER — “You can’t be stagnant and do nothing; we need to be forward-thinking and grow.”

That’s the message from recently elected State Center Mayor Steve Sodders, who along with the community’s city council, sees great potential for the community of roughly 1,460 people.

“We need to have a new vision for the community, and I believe 10 percent growth over the next 2-4 years is not unrealistic,” said Sodders during an interview with the Times-Republican.

Sodders, a former state senator and current member of the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office, said there are many components to the plan he has outlined to the council and State Center residents.

“Obviously, we have to break down this vision into priorities — what needs to be done now and what can we do in the future to build on what we’ve accomplished.

Perhaps the top issues is the city’s water quality.

“First of all we have safe water; we treat it, it’s safe, but it’s not high quality. It’s hard water and we get a lot of complaints about it. Many folks in town just buy drinking water,” Sodders said.

During a recent city council meeting, one resident complained that she is having to purchase a new boiler for her home and that she shouldn’t have to have water softening equipment in her own home.

“I’ve gone through three coffee pots since I moved to town,” she said.

Sodders agreed and said he is pushing the council to formulate a plan to not only come up with a possible new source of water, but that there also has to be a plan to replace water mains and other infrastructure related to the delivery of water to State Center citizens.

“Unfortunately, over the years, not enough emphasis has been put into water rates and long-term plans to fix the problem,” he said. “What I have thrown at the council members are that we are now in a position, based on past decisions, that we have to raise water rates. But if we’re going to raise rates, we have to fix the quality issue. We cannot keep pushing this can down the road.”

Under consideration, moving toward rural water or even making arrangements to have water from Marshalltown piped in. Nothing, Sodders said, is off the table.

Rural water, however, he said, would mean the end of State Center having its own water utility.

“One of the questions has to be ‘How can we keep local control with our utility and also be able to fund the infrastructure that we need?'”

Sodders said he’s hopeful the council we formulate a plan by the end of June.

“We’re talking with experts and I know [Councilman] Howard Darrow is on the ball with the committee he’s chairing to find the best answers. Safe water, the best quality water available — that’s what our citizens want and it’s up to us to get that done.”

Even with infrastructure like new water mains or continued work on improving city streets, Sodders said he and the council believe growing the population means finding additional housing.

“Certainly a part of the vision is look at all options in acquiring land. Is there land around State Center to purchase? We’re investigating to see if that’s feasible.”

Sodders said State Center could be a prime locale for developers who see the community’s central location between Ames and Marshalltown as well as being less than 40 minutes from suburban Des Moines as a golden opportunity.

“We are ideally located for a lot of folks who work in urban areas,” he said. “State Center is the place to raise your family.”

New housing would be welcomed, Sodders said, but so would the redevelopment and revitalization of existing housing.

“We need a nice mix,” the mayor said, adding that he has been working with the League of Cities and other entities, as well as with contacts in Des Moines from his days at the State Capitol.

“Part of my job is to start reaching out to property owners, developers and others who see the potential in growing State Center,” he said.

Sodders said selling the idea of State Center to developers and potential new residents mean touting the amenities the community already has in place.

“We have a phenomenal school district, a vibrant uptown and the small-town charm that comes with living in a community like State Center,” he said.

Council member Darrow said he’s enthusiastic about future opportunities for the community.

He understands, however, that having a vision and paying for it can be two different things.

“It is a balancing act between what you need and what you can afford, but most everyone I’m hearing from want to make sure we have quality water, adequate law enforcement, EMS and fire. We want to have a safe, clean town,” Darrow said.

“But yes, if we could get more affordable housing, some rentals, that would be great.”

The councilman also said he’s hopeful that more small businesses will take a chance on the community and that’s why infrastructure items like water and streets are paramount.

“We also want the public to not be afraid to tell us what they think,” he said. “It’s not just the mayor and five council people — we’re there to help the community and we’re definitely focused on what they need.”

That goes in line with Sodders’ next push — reaching out to all citizens of State Center.

In an effort to push a more progressive agenda on social media, Sodders created a State Center mayoral Facebook page, soliciting ideas, getting feedback.

“Overall, thus far, the responses have been good. We want to get more people engaged and find out what their desires are. We have to have bigger conversations about what’s possible,” he said.

Sodders conceded some are concerned that perhaps plans for the future are too ambitious.

An example — Sodders would like to work with Marshall County to pave Durham Avenue — essentially connected a paved road between Highways 330 and 30.

“Someone asked me, ‘Shouldn’t you just get our streets fixed?’ I said the two are not mutually exclusive — we can work on multiple things,” he said. “We’re just laying out a vision and trying to find the best ways to accomplish those goals.”

Those goals will take money. Sodders said he and the council understand there are limits to what they might be able to do with a limited budget, but all of them are open to creative ways in finding grants, developing public-private partnerships and perhaps finding cost-savings in other areas where money should not be spent.

“We’re going to do this responsibly, but we want to grow. When we start the budget process, we will look at every area of the budget and work within our means, but we have to have some vision toward the future,” he said.

What may make the difference in State Center’s future prospects may be how well Sodders, the council members and its citizens sell themselves to those who want to invest in the community.

“We’ll tell them about out school district, our dedicated teachers. We’ll share how our town, during a time when no one was building or bonding, built a brand new middle school. We can talk about our prime locations and that we have amenities like a fully-stocked grocery store and small businesses up and down Main Street,” he said.

“We only want to improve our city. And honestly, I think we have one of the best great small towns in Iowa!”

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Contact Jeff Hutton at 641-753-6611 or jhutton@timesrepublican.com