By Woodrow Polston
As a result of the uncontested race for mayor in the municipal election Tuesday, Mayor Ralph Kuda Jr. has begun his fifth term in office. As he prepares to continue serving the City of Vandalia in this role, Kuda reflected on his years of service.
“I have served eight years now as mayor,” said Kuda. “Our former mayor retired after serving many years and I decided to take a chance and run for the office. I retired at the brick plant and was president of the union, so I was accustomed to working with people in a leadership role. And I had the opportunity to get to know a lot of people in Vandalia, so I figured that I had a good chance of winning the race,” he added.
During Kuda’s time in office, Vandalia has experienced a positive trend of new businesses coming to the area. At one time in the town’s history, there was an abundance of booming businesses that employed a large number of people, both in town and outside of the city limits. The possibility of this becoming a reality again, is what the mayor and his administration are striving for.
“It is a challenge trying to bring industry into the community,” said Kuda. But we are seeing it happen. We have seen the electric company come in, a new funeral home, a new Family Dollar store, a parts store and several other stores that are now open. We have a new restaurant coming in, and we also have the marijuana facilities. When they were making plans to open the marijuana facilities, I went to Barry, Ill., to talk with their city administrator about it, knowing that he was familiar with the subject. He came out to Vandalia to discuss it with us and gave us the opportunity to ask questions about how it all works,” he added.
As Vandalia welcomes new industry, available housing has become limited. One of the major advantages to adding jobs in a community, is that you can add residents who shop, eat, and live there where they work. Kuda discussed some upcoming projects that could help to open potential housing space.
“We are looking forward to tearing down houses that are in disrepair in the coming year,” said Kuda. “We have a total of 42 houses that we are looking at taking down. We had to get at least 75% of the property owners to sign an agreement to do it. I have heard builders say that if they had a square block to work with, they would love to build some houses here in Vandalia. But they don’t seem to be interested in just building one or two here and there. If the grant comes through for this, I think it will be a good thing. We have residents from as far away as Jefferson City working here at the prison. When people commute they may stop and get a drink or snack, but they are spending most of their tax dollars in their own hometown. If we are bringing new people into the area to work, I want them to stay and be able to live here in Vandalia,” he added.