Dayton mayor shares vision for city as she begins her first term

Caroline Wadzeck, the first woman mayor of Dayton, addresses a large gathering at the June 4 Dayton Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Dayton Community Center. Wadzeck shared her vision for the city of Dayton.

By Vanesa Brashier,

Mayor Caroline Wadzeck’s vision for Dayton is one that embraces the city’s future without forgetting its past. Wadzeck, the first female mayor of Dayton, shared her vision as guest speaker for the June 4 Dayton Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

“I want you to picture this. You are driving down Highway 321 from Cleveland and as you stop at the light in front of Valero, we see to the left a very impressive structure that was formerly used as a rice dryer and formerly streaked in black mold. You think, ‘Wow! What a transformation!'” she said. “After the light turns green, you proceed through the newly-cleaned and painted underpass and notice on both sides of the walls, a large herd of metal broncos galloping down and back up each side. There is even an attractive visual design on the chain-link fences above the underpass, and you think again, ‘Wow. How impressive!'”

While that vision might seem like a grandiose dream, Wadzeck, who was sworn into her first term of office on May 20, already has plans to make it a reality. She and other city leaders are working to form a Downtown Preservation Committee to examine ways to revitalize downtown and save historic buildings.

“They are studying plans of other towns who have done this work and will be coming up with Dayton’s plan in the near future. They want to use incentives and education, not just regulations, to achieve this,” she said.

While Wadzeck’s heart might be in Dayton’s history, she isn’t shying away from the inevitable growth that is coming due to the Grand Parkway’s proximity to Dayton, the Gulf Inland Logistics Park and other developments underway in Dayton.

She credits City Manager Theo Melancon, city council and former mayor Jeff Lambright for aggressively preparing for the growth.

“They have ordered the studies needed to put Dayton in a great position to apply for grants and other funds needed to get us where we want to be. You may have heard about some of the studies that have been done in the last year on behalf of the City. They aren’t cheap, but a city absolutely must have these studies in place in order to even be able to fill out the paperwork necessary to apply for available grants,” Wadzeck said.

Just applying for the money isn’t a tactic that works. A city must have concrete proof of that need and a definite plan in place for its use, according to Wadzeck.

“That is what the studies accomplish for us. As one of our council members said, ‘Every study is being used as a stepping stone to where Dayton needs to be,'” she added.

Some of the recent grant successes for the City of Dayton have resulted in the addition of 2.7 miles of sidewalks around town. This grant through the Texas Department of Transportation will add sidewalks along SH 321 from Dayton High School to US 90. This will make travel safer for pedestrians, many of whom are students at the high school. At the May 20 meeting, Council agreed to commit $572K of city funds for the required matching funds on another $1.5 million project to add sidewalks from U.S. 90 to Brown Road along SH 146. That second grant has not yet been approved by the Houston-Galveston Area Council, but city leaders are hopeful.

Wadzeck mentioned other city projects that are improving the lives of Dayton residents, such as sewer line repairs on Norcross Lane, FM 1960, on Lawrence St. from SH 321 to Winfree St., and at the high school.

“The City will be finishing work on Prater Road and beginning work on Tram Road drainage. Still to come will be upgrading the main service line to the prisons. Drainage work will take place on Sunset Heights subdivision, which has had flooding issues for many years. This will take place through the summer and their road will be repaved,” the mayor said.

According to Wadzeck, plans also call for 11 streets to be repaved by the end of summer, barring any last-minute complication or weather-related delay.

“Public safety has been a top priority with the City and, of course, they are working closely with the police and fire departments, and EMS. Our police department entered into the Law Enforcement Best Practices Program about a year ago to comply with standards established by a state committee of professional police chiefs who created them for departments to follow,” Wadzeck said. “It will take about another year to be compliant and, by doing so, it will help the officers be more efficient and effective in delivering services, and there will be a reduction of risk in doing their jobs.”

The end result, she said, is that Dayton’s citizens will be better protected. In order to achieve these goals, the city has invested in a new radio system for the police department. Prior to the new system, officers could be inside the police station and still not be heard by dispatch. The old system had to be rebooted at times in order to be operational.

“We have upgraded the video camera system in our police cars and interview rooms to be the best available and also the body cams worn by detectives and officers,” the mayor said, “Many other upgrades at the PD have been implemented under the direction of Chief Robert Vine.”

She happily shared that the City of Dayton’s fire department has recently purchased a 105-foot ladder truck and significantly lowered its Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating from the previous 6 to 2. That drop, which is historic for Dayton, puts the Dayton Fire Department in an elite group of fire departments with that rating as only 4 percent of fire departments in the nation have an ISO rating of 2 or better. The lower ISO rating also gives the city a leg-up when competing for industrial business development.

“In May, the City Council approved Dayton’s Unified Development Code (UDC), which has been in the works for over a year. That has been needed for quite some time and it consolidates our City’s standards and codes into a single document and ensures they work well together,” Wadzeck said. “Those codes were also updated, raising our minimum standards for building and remodeling in the City as a whole. This will be of even greater value as Dayton grows as it gives us a good plan for expanding our community and is a blueprint for our future.”

The UDC is part of the City’s Comprehensive Plan, which was completed a year ago. The UDC is a user-friendly resource used by companies and individuals wanting to create a development in Dayton.

With all the growth that is coming Dayton’s way, traffic is a real concern. Wadzeck reminded the luncheon attendees that the city is working on plans to extend Waco Street from the high school to US 90. While that will not alleviate all the traffic problems, it will divert many school buses and vehicles of parents picking up and dropping off students.

“Do you find yourself avoiding going to town during the times when school lets out and when people are driving home in the late afternoon? And just when you think it couldn’t get worse, it does. Something happens on I-10 that sends even more traffic through Dayton, trains come to a stop to do whatever it is that they do, large trucks and other vehicles block the intersections preventing cross-traffic from crossing 90,” the mayor said.

While a loop around Dayton has been touted as a way to alleviate traffic, Wadzeck said, “A viable solution for the traffic coming in from and heading to Liberty hasn’t been found because of the river bottom, but talks have begun concerning it.”

The solution to Dayton’s traffic problems will need to be creative, she added.

While Dayton residents might want the town to be preserved as it is, without all the growth coming its way, Wadzeck said change is inevitable.

“There are really only two kinds of change: planned changed and unplanned change. We can either grow by chance or by choice. A town without a plan will have a very hard time attracting investors in the way of businesses, good subdivisions and great residents,” the mayor said. “As I begin my tenure as mayor, I’m eager to work with the Council and City Manager Theo Melancon and his staff as we continue to plan for the future of Dayton.”

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