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2019 will bring challenges, changes

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The turning of the year is traditionally a time of reflection. As we prepare to begin a new trip around the sun, we think about what happened in the past 365 days. The past year was a year of change for all of us, including the Durant Democrat.

Customers have noticed some changes in the bylines, a continuing upgrade of the newspaper’s design, an emphasis on local news coverage and less reliance on sources outside of Bryan County. We have improved our product, and, along the way, we have found new challenges to meet.

This includes renovating our offices and welcoming some new businesses to share our space with us. It’s all part of the phenomenal growth in Durant and Bryan County. But there have been greater changes and challenges in the community.

Durant’s business community continues to grow at a pace other communities would love to match. CMC Steel Oklahoma officially began production, SteelFab is in limited operation and moving quickly toward an official opening, the Spanish manufacturer Tubacex has signed an agreement to open Salem Tubing in Durant. These businesses are bringing hundreds of new jobs to complement those created by Big Lots, Cardinal Glass, Webstaraunt and others that previously decided to call Bryan County home.

When it comes to employment Bryan County is a buyer’s market with some of the most competitive wages in the state. Anyone who truly wants to work and is willing to work can find work in Bryan County.

But our community is more than news and money and jobs. We have an active and energetic civic leadership. From the South 9th Avenue Arts District project, which will highlight Durant’s culture, creativity and cuisine, to its current efforts to secure a spot on the “Small Business Revolution – Main Street” online television program. From Durant Main Street, to its civic clubs to its artistic community, Durant benefits from a populace that believes in their community and want to see it thrive.

All this bodes well for 2019. If we continue on this path prosperity, while it cannot be guaranteed, is certainly made more likely. But it’s not all sunlight and roses. Growth means growing pains and Durant certainly has its share of challenges.

The city is dealing with a growing homeless population. Efforts to help those in need are drawing criticism from property and business owners who must deal with people trespassing on their properties and impacting their businesses. How the city balances the legitimate needs of the poor while protecting the legal rights of its residents will be a major challenge in the coming year.

The expansion of industry means increased demand on infrastructure. As outlined in the pages of this newspaper, the city’s sewage system is almost to capacity. Our streets are in a sad state of repair and the stormwater runoff and drainage situation would be funny if it were not so serious. Residential construction meant to meet the growing demand for affordable housing exacerbates the stress on the city’s systems.

City leaders are working with concerned residents on a long-range comprehensive plan. The city council has also authorized an infrastructure task force to study the city’s needs and how to finance them. The task force will present a report to the city at the end of June.

As we reflect on the past, not just the past year but actions from years past that the city still must deal with, we can’t help but ask what could have been done better? Did we really need to renovate city hall rather than pave streets? Was it wise to borrow against a sales tax that is due to sunset? Is it time to rethink some of the decisions made in the past?

These are legitimate questions that deserve serious, thoughtful reflection and action. But they have also been the flashpoint for some criticism and conflict. Public critique of past and present city leaders has resulted in a lawsuit between the current city manager, the city and a city councilmember. Outlandish, vile and offensive social media posts have poisoned the atmosphere to the point that many who would consider public service are loath to step into the ring.

Durant has everything it needs and more to prosper and thrive. Let’s all commit to dealing with one another in good faith as we begin our new year together.

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