“City Government 101” is an ongoing series that debuted in April 2023 and highlights different aspects of municipal government as it pertains to Columbus, Nebraska, in hopes to provide information on how the City of Columbus operates.
Every City of Columbus department head was recently asked some questions in regard to their department, the current fiscal year budget and plans for their department in the upcoming fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2023-Sept. 30, 2024). The planning and economic development coordinator is under the direct leadership of the city administrator.
DEPARTMENT: Planning and Economic Development
DEPARTMENT HEAD: Jean Van Iperen
(Interview conducted in September 2023)
Q: How many people are in your department?
A: I am the only one in the department, but I do work closely with other departments depending on my projects.
Q: How long have you been head of your department?
A: I will have been with the city two years on Oct. 25.
Q: How do you think things went for your department in fiscal year 2022-2023?
A: I think fairly well. I had been working on several items that were a long time in the making that finally came to fruition.
Q: What were at least two of your department’s biggest accomplishments in the last fiscal year (and why)?
A: The Creative District was certified. The City received a $10,000 grant to help the district kick off its project and will have access to another $250,000 over the next five years. The certification also allows the City to apply for the CCCFF grant through the state next year. During the grant cycle, only certified Creative Districts are allowed to apply, which means we will be competing against 16 other districts if there are no more certifications before the beginning of the year. The Business Improvement District was formed and is up and running. The BID process took over a year from start to finish, but in the long run I think it will be beneficial for the downtown area.
Q: What are some of the problems your department faced in the last fiscal year and how did you overcome them?
A: The biggest problem I have had to face this past year is finding the best way to communicate information to the public. With the ever changing environment, people no longer turn to the local newspapers for information. This can make it tough for government organizations and businesses to maneuver the multiple news venues hoping to find the right mix that will allow them to connect with the people they are trying to reach.
Q: What are at least 3 major things you’re wanting your department to accomplish in fiscal year 2023-2024 and how is the new budget going to improve that?
A: I would like the Creative District to get a little more established and come up with programming for the full year. This will not really affect the new budget because this should be covered through grants that the District is eligible for. I would like to get the City’s housing subdivision across the finish line with land purchased and infrastructure in place so new homes can start being built. Money has been set aside in the budget to purchase the property and will be recouped once lots are sold. And lastly, I would like to see continued improvements in the downtown area. It has been rewarding this past year to work with the newly established Business Improvement District (BID). The Board is starting to gain momentum and it is an exciting time as the area begins to develop. The BID Board is looking to not only make improvements to the area, but to also put in place information and resources to attract new businesses to the area.
Q: What can the public expect from your department in the next fiscal year?
A: All of the above items as well as hopefully a new round of Downtown Revitalization grants and 1 block of 11th Street getting new sidewalks.
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