SDML Executive Director tours Madison

South Dakota Municipal League (SDML) Executive Director Yvonne Taylor toured the city of Madison recently, making stops at city hall, the water and wastewater plant, the community center and other facilities. Taylor, who confessed to never having been inside any of the Madison utility facilities during her 20-year tenure with SDML, was led on the tour by Mayor Gene Hexom. She detailed her visit to Madison in the August issue of South Dakota Municipalities magazine. It has been reprinted with permission below.

South Dakota Municipal League is a nonpartisan, nonprofit association¬† of incorporated municipalities in South Dakota. SDML’s mission is the cooperative improvement of municipal government in South Dakota. Their primary activities consist of individualized problem solving assistance, municipal publications, legislative advocacy, state and local relations, conferences, financial assistance and more.

A Tour of Madison

by Yvonne Taylor, SDML

Gene Hexom, Mayor of Madison, has a map showing eastern South Dakota and the market area around the larger cities on that side of the state. Overlapping Lake County, in which Madison is centered, is the influence of Watertown, Brookings, Mitchell and Sioux Falls, all great cities, and stiff competition indeed, for Madison, population 6,474.

When asked, “So why is Madison thriving–what makes a business, or a family, settle here rather than one of the other places?” he proceeded to show a visitor exactly what Madison has to offer.

An aerial view of Madison. Photo courtesy City of Madison.

My tour began with a visit to City Hall and meeting some of the people who make the city run–beginning with the finance office, of course! Next, by special request, was a tour of the water and wastewater facilities. And for finding a very basic reason people live in cities, this was a great place to start.

Finding a wastewater facility to be spotlessly clean was a surprise. Finding knowledgeable, dedicated employees was not a surprise, and the level of expertise and commitment to the facility was impressive. Leading the tour was Connie Silva, Water/Wastewater Foreman, a 30-year Madison employee. She started in the Parks Department and worked her way up to her present position. Of all the things she showed me during the tour, one of the most impressive was her comment on the water quality. She mentioned some minor mineral in the water, and when asked, “But that isn’t a problem with EPA or anything, right?” she responded, “No, but you know, you just want it to be better.” You could tell with her every movement that her goal for the citizens with Madison was perfect water.

A zero emission wastewater facility is also a high point for a city that prides itself on its conservation efforts and commitment to the energy sector.

And Silva and her staff are somewhat rare, cross trained employees, running both water and sewer facilities. It was great to see the inner workings of what we all take for granted when we turn on the tap or flush the toilet, or even, as was the case recently in Madison, when a major downpour floods the city and the system has to handle that storm water overflow. We all notice the rainstorm–fewer of us realize the 24-hour days the city employees are putting in to handle these events.

Driving around Madison with Mayor Hexom showed more obvious reasons people love living there. The Parks department’s attention to detail in the beautiful Welcome to Madison area as one drives in from the east, and in the flowers on the lampposts downtown.

A Welcome to Madison sign along Highway 34.

The lovely parks, and an outdoor water park that my nine year old would be delighted to call home. The ball fields, soccer fields, and a special treat, the Gerry Maloney Nature Area, donated by a long-time resident for the preservation of a completely unspoiled acreage on the edge of town. Mayor Hexom described a walk in the nature area during the annual visit of the Monarch butterflies, something I intend to return to Madison to see some early September.

A historic Carnegie Library, artfully added onto more recently, is a capstone of the city, and gorgeous stained glass windowed churches vie for the title of most beautiful while answering the city’s spiritual needs.

It was so obvious that Madison is a family oriented, kid-friendly town that I asked if the population was unusually young (by SD standards) and was surprised to hear it was not. You wouldn’t know it from the parks systems and schools. It is apparent that young people and families are the center of Madison’s attention and, very likely, that dedication has paid off it is economic success.

The companies that call Madison home demonstrate the importance of economic development to city leaders. Two companies build houses to move on-site wherever someone wants to live–building indoors and able to produce magnificent, custom homes year-round.

The energy sector is also vibrantly present, of course with Madison’s own electric system, but also with Heartland Consumers Power District (in their LEED Platinum building, the first in South Dakota) and East River Electric Power Cooperative, which has made wonderful improvements to downtown.

Rosebud Custom Cabinets, heavy equipment manufacturing, and much more fill a tremendous industrial park (but plenty of room for more, if you are looking for a place to put your business!).

Another highlight of the tour was a true jewel of the city–the Community Center, operated in partnership with Dakota State University (a jewel in its own right). From the full size courts to the elevated walking track, to the world class array of gym equipment and indoor pool, 3,000 area residents (not to mention the DSU students not included in that number) stay fit in this wonderful facility.

The Madison Community Center. Photo courtesy the City of Madison.

The Mayor, so enthused about his community that he took nearly seven hours out of his schedule to show a visitor around, showed another form of dedication to his city. It was truly an impressive day in lovely Madison–even the food was great at the landmark Nicky’s!

All of this and more in one day, and we didn’t even go see the lakes that are another major draw for visitors and residents. You’ll need to make your own visit to get the full picture, but this visitor can tell you it will be VERY worth the trip.

For more information on Madison, go to their website

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