Mayor’s creativity helps bring bus shelters to Waterloo

By Sarah Brown

WATERLOO MAYOR Justin Cary stands under a bus shelter he and the city were able to procure to provide a shield for local students awaiting school buses.

 The newest mayor of the City of Waterloo just checked off his first big item of business: obtain bus shelters for kids. Now he wants to tackle other projects for the city, including building a fresh City Council before it ages out.

Mayor Justin Cary obtained funding and community support to purchase bus stop shelters for school kids when he saw a need.

“The kids have been using the little Waterloo store’s awning, and the high schoolers were just gathering on the corner underneath the tree,” Cary said. “We figured we should probably get some shelter out there. It’s a simple thing. It’s a thing that probably should’ve been done years ago.”

He originally figured they’d build the shelters out of wood, but the cost was surprisingly expensive, he said. The City of Waterloo has a very minimal budget, so Cary had to think outside the box.

“I know that cities have stockpiles of old things that they tend to not use, so I started researching and reached out to a couple places,” he said.

Cary located a federal and state surplus supply in Salem, and found four bus shelters with benches selling for $150 each.

“It’s impossible to get anything cheaper than that,” he said.

While the City was willing to budget for the $600, Cary still needed money to transport and install them, so he asked for help through social media. Though $50 short of his goal, the mayor’s posts elicited donations from the community and from people who live outside Waterloo, as well.

The bus routes were changed this year in connection with the new shelters, which were placed on 8th Street across from the old Waterloo school, on 6th and Card streets, and 4th and Card streets.

A SCHOOL BUS picks up children from the new 8th Street bus stop during a slightly rainy morning, while parent Brooke Cary watches. The new bus shelter provides a safe and dry spot for children in Waterloo.

The bus used to pick up along the main drag, Gross Street, which caused traffic and safety concerns, said Brooke Cary, Justin’s wife, who walks her kids to the bus stop every morning.

“The idea was to get them off the main road and then under a shelter so they’re not standing under the rain,” she said.

Most of the parents have expressed appreciation for the new route and shelters, she said.

“I like my kid not having to stand in the rain,” said Tom Park, who also noted that last year a motorcyclist had to dump his bike after going too fast and not having enough time to notice the bus stopped on Gross Street and Vail Creek Road.

Eileen Davis, a bus driver for 20 years, said she loves the new shelters.

“The kids have a place to get in and out of the rain, and for a bus driver there’s an object there so you know where the stop is at,” she said.

The mayor would eventually like to place lights over the lights, too.

“In the mornings it’s dark out here still,” he said.

The next thing Cary would like to tackle for his town is to organize a local Gleaners group and food distribution service for low-income families, he said. He also wants to encourage a new generation of residents to put a bid in for a seat on City Council.

Since Cary began investing himself in the city, he has seen a need to get younger people involved for the sake of Waterloo’s future.

“Without more young people getting involved now, we will not be able to make progress beyond what I take on myself,” he said, referring mainly to the manual labor involved in city improvements.

Most of the council members are retired and have served several terms, and two miss a lot of the meetings due to health and business, said Earlene Little, president of the council, who’s been city recorder, council member and mayor over the years.

“I, myself, have spent so many years doing it that I personally would like to see somebody come in,” Little said. “I’ve been on council since 1984, off and on. I’ve been mayor four times because nobody would run for the position”

She doesn’t believe the City Council is at a point where they’re aging out just yet, but it was mentioned at a meeting that it would be nice for some “new blood” to take an interest and put their name in the hat come election time, she said.

“It’s like the same people are constantly there. We’re getting a lot of younger people in town, and it would be nice if they showed up at the meeting and put some input in.”

Cary believes if new people don’t take an interest in the city, then Waterloo will eventually lose its council members as they age out, and the needs of the community cannot be met without representation.

“We have not had a 20-year vision plan for our city in about 20 years, and it is really hard to be ready for the future if you don’t have a plan for it,” he said.

His concern is, at worst, that the city could revert back to the control of Linn County.

If that happened, Waterloo would lose its income from franchise fees, Little said. The income the city receives from franchises such as Pacific Power and Comcast would be put in the county coffers.

“There would be no street improvements, there would be no street lights,” she said. “They don’t realize what they have and what they would lose.”

For Cary, who’s heard from residents that they’d like to see changes in Waterloo, the only way to have change is to be the change.

WATERLOO RESIDENTS Bill Pipper, Don Nelson, Justin Cary and his son, Cole, volunteer a few hours out of their day to build a concrete pad for the new bus shelter at 6th and Card streets. Cary believes he shouldn’t have to rely on older generations to help with city improvements when so many young families are moving in.

 “I believe that the only way it will (change) is if we begin to have younger people, with their energy, optimism and visions of what Waterloo can become to join our council and get involved.”

Cary said being on council only requires an hour a month for the City Council meetings, and maybe a few more hours a month to accomplish any volunteer tasks for city projects.

“I would love to see optimistic people that have a desire to connect with their neighbors and who want to build strong community relationships,” he said. “We need people who can show the community that the city council is here to serve the community and meet their needs, not just to collect fees and enforce rules.”

Cary became mayor last November. He moved to town from  California with his wife and four kids more than two years ago, and was elected mayor with eight votes.

“In a city of about 250 people, I feel it is unfair to expect the grandparents and great-grandparents of this community to bear sole responsibility to move Waterloo forward,” he said.