Speakers say future looks bright

Mexico is moving forward and the future looks bright, according to the speakers at last night's State of the Community Address held at the Audrain County 4-H Center.
The fifth annual event, presented by the Mexico Area Chamber of Commerce, drew a record attendance and filled the facility with various tax-supported and non-profit organizations showcasing their programs. The doors opened at 6 p.m. with a dessert reception and time to visit with the agencies. The master of ceremonies for the evening was Chamber President Josh Hanley.
The six program speakers were Audrain Medical Center (and SSM) CEO David Neuendorf, Mexico City Manager Bruce Slagle, Help Center Director Gary Jones, Audrain County Presiding Commissioner Steve Hobbs, Mexico Public School Superintendent Kevin Freeman and Arthur Center CEO Terry Mackey.
The first to the microphone was Neuendorf, explaining how AMC has changed, while keeping the same mission and values.
"AMC continues to grow. Before the partnership with SSM we were a $5 million healthcare system. Now, we are part of a $5 billion healthcare system," Neuendorf said about the hospital's recent partnership with SSM. The partnership, he said, allows AMC access to capital, to share costs, to share administrative costs and the best practices. As the hospital continues to move through the changes, he said, "We are going to continue to struggle with uninsured patients, and to provide access to care with complete satisfaction and better services in the future. We take care of patients first, and worry about getting paid later."
City Manager Slagle said Mexico is moving forward and making good progress. He reported the city's unemployment rate today is at 6.1 percent (compared to 8 percent in 2011) and that 12,000 people are employed in the county today, for the first time since February 2002. He noted that there are challenges ahead, and to meet them the community "must work together."
"If I have learned anything in 25 years of public service, it is this," Slagle said. "We do more together than alone, and people with goals succeed because they know where they're going. Our future is our common bond."
"Mexico is in good financial shape," Slagle said. "We successfully pursued a strategy of fiscal responsibility and made the tactical decisions necessary to stabilize our finances. Mexico city government is leaner, more transparent in its operations and more financially sustainable than in recent years. We have a solid budget and a credit rating that is impressive for a city our size. City specific property tax rates are lower now than they have been for the last 20 years."
The Help Center continues to serve Mexico and Audrain County's families in need. During January through December 2012, the Center provided food for 3,933 families that totaled 10,071 people. This year, through July, the center provided food for 2,880 families, totaling 7,545 people and still have five more months to go.
Director Gary Jones said the percentage of age groups served are: 0-17 (15%) 18-49 (35%) 50-64 (50%) 65 and plus (10%).
"Many of these families are the working poor," Jones said. "These are people that do work, but are still struggling to meet monthly obligations for just basic needs. During the Month of July the Help Center provided 32,000 pounds of food to the community.
"Because we are a non-profit organization, the only way we can even attempt to meet the needs of our community is through the generosity of individuals and groups who donate financial support towards the ongoing works at the Help Center."
Commissioner Hobbs noted that "county health is excellent" and that the sales tax is coming in as budgeted. "We have steady numbers, which is a blessing for us." He thanked the voters for their support in 2010 to allow the commission to switch funds from the former bridge fund to general funds. "That has allowed us to compensate our employees and put us on a solid foundation," he said.
Hobbs talked about the recent courthouse improvements, the commission's plan for a sidewalk project, and its recent purchase of the Pearl Motor Company building, located at the corner of Love and Jefferson streets. He also noted that the Audrain County Sheriff's Office has a recent hiree — which Hobbs hopes will help Sheriff Stuart Miller better balance the department's three shifts. "I'm already seeing the benefits of that," he told the audience.
Superintendent Kevin Freeman asked the audience if they thought their local schools were doing a good job, and the crowd responded with a large number of hands. Freeman said the local schools are now doing a better job educating kids and that more high school students are graduating. To keep this community moving forward, he said "We, as a district, must recognize our role and focus on three things:
• teaching the kids how to read
• having Top 10 programs, and
• preparing our kids to graduate and achieve goals.
"Mexico schools are in great shape and the fund balance is in good shape. Now, all we have to do is prepare our students to do whatever it is they want to do after high school," he said.
Last to the microphone was Terry Mackey, who told the audience that "Mental Health is alive and well in Mexico."
"In 2012, we served 3,100 people. And of that number, 1,260 were from Audrain. Do the math; that represents five percent of the population." He said mental health is a big part of primary care, and that "we need to find a balance to better serve them."
Mackey said for years "We have focused on the illness and not the wellness or prevention. People are not just dying from mental health issues, they are also dying because they aren't receiving the proper medical care needed."
In addition, MoDOT Chief Engineer Ed Hassinger spoke to the audience, informing them about changes in Missouri transportation funds and some struggles they are facing. "We plan to continue doing the best we can do, for as long as we can," Hassinger said. "We have a vision for transportation and we've been out talking to communities. As we move forward, the communities that work with MoDOT will get things done."
The State of the Community event is an opportunity for citizens to hear from leaders, ask questions and gather information about key organizations. Business leaders are able to hear and review the strengths of the community and have one-on-one communication with the people who help these organizations thrive.
Financial sponsors of this year's address were Audrain County Bar Association, Audrain County Farm Bureau, Commerce Bank, First National Bank of Audrain County, Martinsburg Bank and Trust, Mexico Heating Company, Inc., Missouri Military Academy, Bruce and Nancy Oliver, Pearl Motor Company, United Credit Union and Bruce and Barb Wilson.