Marion City Manager Ryan Waller poses for a portrait in December 2021 at the Marion Artway in Marion. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)
MARION — It’s now been a year since Marion City Manager Ryan Waller took over the position, and he said it’s been a busy first year.
The growing city of around 40,000 residents in 2022 has seen the completion of generational projects such as the new Marion Public Library and the Seventh Avenue Streetscape.
The city in August also learned it would receive $3 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds allocated by the state toward its Central Plaza project in City Square Park. The project was one of three to receive funds in that round of Destination Iowa allocations.
Waller, who previously was the city manager in Indianola, started in Marion in November 2021. He replaced longtime City Manager Lon Pluckhahn, who left to take another position in Vancouver, Wash.
The Gazette recently sat down with Waller to reflect on the past year and find out more about what’s to come in 2023.
Question: How was your first year in Marion?
A: It has been an absolute dream come true. My kids have acclimated with their surroundings really well in the Linn-Mar School District. They’ve found things they like. We have wonderful neighbors. My wife is settled down in her career as a funeral director at Cedar Memorial. Here at work has been equally as great. Everybody was so welcoming and everybody has been very trusting, and I appreciate that.
Q: What were some of the highlights for the city in 2022 in your eyes?
A: The ones the community are more familiar with: opening the library. It’s a tremendous asset. The Destination Iowa Grant award for the upcoming plaza … When you think about the partnerships and positivity that went into that grant application, that was Marion to a T. That was a lot of blood, sweat and tears and to be one of the few select communities in the state, that is tremendous.
Finishing streetscape was another plus. It’s great when you look at the streetscape and the library. People are able to see the vision, and it’s something that’s been in the works for quite some time.
Q: What were the biggest challenges in this first year?
A: The biggest challenge for an organization is when you introduce new people. I’ve spoken to Lon (Pluckhahn) on the phone a few times but if you talk to anyone, we are different personalities and paces. Which isn’t good or bad, but when you have somebody who’s been part of an organization as long as Lon has and then you introduce someone new with a different style, that takes some getting used to. I had to learn a lot of people and the dynamics of the team and personalities. Fortunately, the city invested in easing the transition so that was very welcome. And now we’ve added (deputy city manager) Kim (Downs) to the team. I keep joking with department heads that we were just starting to stabilize with adding me, but now we’re adding Kim to the mix. Now that (community development director) Tom (Treharne) is leaving us, we will have other new faces, and we will build new routines and relationships.
Q: In 2023, what do you think are the biggest issues impacting the city and its residents?
A: The biggest impact is the state’s formula prescribed to municipalities for property tax, and with this I’m specifically talking about the rollback. In the state of Iowa, the way that communities can fund vital services and amenities is through growth. Even though Marion has grown and done it the right way, because of state code, our revenue stream varies from year to year. For instance, just this last year, because of legislation passed by the state, we lost $1.8 million in revenue without blinking an eye. This is important because we’re in an environment where it’s becoming exceedingly competitive with public- and private-sector companies to attract and retain talent.
Q: With new faces in Marion and Cedar Rapids over the last year — you and Kim Downs in Marion and Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell in Cedar Rapids — how do you see the region growing together? Where do you think things stand right now and where do you see improvements to be made?
A: It’s been a joy to work with the (Cedar Rapids and Marion) mayors and (Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff) Pomeranz. We get together on a monthly basis to talk about the relationships and opportunities to partner for the region. We’ve really been coming together as a region, and we’ve been working on the upcoming year to really keep that momentum of keeping together, especially with transit and sewer stuff.
But again, the greatest opportunity for the region is really working together at the state level to have some comprehensive and bipartisan conversations around the negative impacts caused by the rollback and to ensure that precious revenue to the cities is not threatened.
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