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Ken Newton / By Ken Newton  

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Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran, right, brought his Conservation Tour to the reservation near White Cloud on Wednesday. Also speaking at this stop were Matt Sprick, left, of the Brown County field office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Tim Rhodd, center, chairman of the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska.

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Audit committee discusses city finances

St. Joseph Mayor Bill McMurray’s newly formed Blue Ribbon Audit Committee met Wednesday to look at the city budget and discuss sales tax revenue.

The committee was created out of a conversation during budget talks where the mayor and members of the City Council expressed a need to have monthly looks at finances instead of only getting an update on city funds during annual budget sessions.

On Wednesday, the committee was given a report on those funds by City Manager Bruce Woody and Director of Administrative Services Tom Mahoney. The group had requested a look at the water protection fund, a $62 million enterprise fund.

Water protection is funded through sewer utility bills, which have gone up due to federally mandated capital projects involving the removal of stormwater from the wastewater treatment plant and other upgrades to prevent pollution into the Missouri River.

McMurray requested that city staff map out how long those projects will have to be paid for and how long those expenses will continue to impact sewer bills.

“We’d like to have a projection out 10 years, because the big driver of the expense in that fund is the capital improvement that the (federal government) has said that we have to make,” McMurray said.

McMurray said being able to see when there might be a peak in sewer bills and when there might be a decline could give customers a little relief.

Woody said the rates are expected to have to rise in order to continue paying for debt for projects related to the mandates, such as the Blacksnake Creek project, which could be finished by the end of the year.

McMurray is hoping to keep the rates as low as possible, and the council has been in favor of not raising rates for the past two years.

“We didn’t increase the rates last year, we didn’t increase them this year, but with the debt load for improving the system that we are required to do, in the future we might have to give a little bit of an increase,” McMurray said. “I hate to do that, but if the feds requires us to do it, we’re going to have to do it. I haven’t given up yet though.”

At the meeting, city staff told the committee that 42 percent of a customer’s sewer bill pays for those capital projects.

The committee also looked at the overall budget of the city, which shows a decline in revenue from sales tax.

The end of the last fiscal year saw $356,000 less in sales tax brought in than the previous year.

McMurray hopes an effort being pushed by state Rep. Bill Faulkner, a former St. Joseph mayor, to capture sales tax revenue from the web will be successful in the state legislature.

“We need to get this internet sales tax passed, because people just like you and me are buying a lot of stuff online and the city sees none of that tax revenue,” McMurray said.

The Blue Ribbon Audit Committee will meet again on Tuesday, Oct. 1, to continue looking at the budget.

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In light and emotion, photographer makes a connection

In the warm, soft light of a late afternoon, Laura Benitz can find a happy place. She loves a good sun flare.

The slow march to dusk gives her time to work, allows for clients to change clothes and move to different locations. A photographer recognizes the value of these golden minutes, and Benitz milks them after setting an agreeable tone.

“When you get that emotional connection established, then you feel more comfortable visiting with them, you put them at ease,” she said of her photo subjects. “They feel like they’re talking to a friend even though they have that camera right in their face.”

The photography teacher at Riverside High School, also with a dozen years owning her own photo business, uses technical experience to her advantage. True, she concedes the essential transaction of the medium, the capture of light, can be accomplished in a nearly sterile manner.

Benitz does not work this way, though, and warns her students against it. The predicate of any photo session, she tells them, comes in the form of a conversation, some common ground found, a bond that becomes its own light.

Before she lifts a camera, the photographer will ask her subjects about their families, their work, their interests. She will drop to the floor to play with the kids, letting them know they can have fun with what’s to come.

“I like to talk,” Benitz said, laughing. “When (clients) come to me, I want them having fun. I want them feeling good about themselves.”

A lifelong resident of Wathena, Kansas, except for those couple of years getting her bachelor’s degree at Montana State University, Benitz recalls a childhood that hinted at her future livelihood.

“I was always the one in the family carrying a camera around,” she said. These were the disposable sorts, but Benitz got a bona-fide camera for her eighth-grade graduation, and she went on to take pictures and write for the yearbook at the high school in Wathena. She would be the photographer for her university newspaper.

Artistic talent ran in the family. Her grandfather, Clarence Cuts The Rope, a member of the Gros Ventre tribe, had been a noted Native American artist, his works sold throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. Her grandmother painted, and her twin brother works as a graphic designer.

Benitz would study on her own to learn photo composition and the perspective that increases intimacy in her images. Then, she just worked at it.

Teaching for a time at Wathena, she got her master’s degree in library science and later an art endorsement. While her children were young, she ran the photo business as a full-time concern before returning to the school (now Riverside) a couple of years ago.

In the photography course (she also teaches studio art, web design and journalism), Benitz demands proficiency with the camera before students move on to other aspects of this art.

“I always tell my students the first month, I’m grading you hard on the technical,” she said. “I want you knowing that camera like the back of your hand and then we get into the creativity. Then it just naturally flows out of them.”

She flips open her calendar to show the upcoming appointments in her photography business. Benitz tries to keep a reasonable schedule to not interfere with her family life. Not all the lessons of private shoots transcend directly to the classroom.

In photo sessions with engaged couples or newlyweds or families, there will be some measure of snuggling.

“Some families still want direction, so I’ll say, ‘OK, I’m going to step back now, you guys just hang out, do what you’re doing,’” the photographer said. “’But everybody needs to be touching somebody.’”

Benitz recognizes her work gains her an attachment in the lives of others. Her images will be in homes for decades. She has become close with some folks who started as clients. Tears form as the photographer describes the time she accompanied one family to the airport to greet their newly adopted child.

“That’s probably one of the most rewarding parts about being a photographer,” Benitz said. “Not only did I leave them with a tangible product, the pictures for years to come, but when they look at that picture, they remember the experience.”

She adds, then, playfully, “And, of course, they remember me, so I’ve made a friend that way.”

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Beating the odds to fly again

Imagine you’ve lost the vision out of your dominant eye and you had to perform the same job you’re doing now.

Now imagine that job is flying a C-130H Hercules for the 180th Airlift Squadron at Rosecrans Memorial Airport.

Do you think you’d have the slightest chance at flying again without both of your eyes?

“It’s certainly unique, certainly rare,” Master Sgt. Michael Crane, Public Affairs Superintendent for the 139th Airlift Wing, said. “I think it’s a great example of the Air Force, looking at the airmen, and being able to take care of them.”

Despite the odds, Major Ed Fattmann, call sign, “Fatty,” flew a C-130 as an Air Force pilot after a seven-year military hiatus.

The incident that robbed him of his dominant eye happened on the Fourth of July in 2012. A misfired firework hit his right eye.

The military has strict rules about a pilot’s eyes, so the notion that officials would allow one with one functioning eye to fly is a long shot itself. However, Fattmann didn’t spend that time holding his breath.

He underwent 32 procedures on his vision. The reason being; similar to his brother, father or even his grandfather — Fattmann is a pilot, and that was his singular dream as a child.

“I love to fly, that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do,” Fattmann said.

One of the procedures included a special gift from his father.

“My dad donated his stem cells around his eye,” Fattmann said. “So at one point, I actually had 20/40 vision again.”

The recurring issue with every attempt to correct his vision was his eyelid. It created the problem, which caused the cornea to fail, and subsequently the vision in his right eye.

Despite the limitation, Fattmann has been flying some military craft as a civilian beginning two years ago, because the vision requirements aren’t as stringent. Those experiences were the reason he was able to return to fly again for the squadron.

The crew that accompanied him over the skies of St. Joseph on Wednesday afternoon weren’t a bunch of slouches either. They were the same soldiers who went to Afghanistan with him back in 2010.

“When you deploy you build a relationship that’s close, and you can’t ever replace that,” Fattmann said.

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Black and gold cover Downtown for Golden Griffon Rally

Coleman Hawkins Park at Felix Street Square was filled with Missouri Western State University sports fans for the Golden Griffon Rally hosted by Western athletics.

The event was held to celebrate 50 seasons of Griffon football and kick off the start of all fall sports.

It was held on the eve of the first home football game, followed by the first home soccer game Friday night. Volleyball and cross-country also compete this weekend away from their home turf.

The rally included appearances by Western student athletes, Griffon spirit squads and the Golden Griffon marching band.

Western athletic director Josh Looney said Missouri Western Athletics decided to bring this event to Downtown due to success of other athletics events.

“We had a great Griffon Edge event bringing our freshmen Downtown, so we said instead of doing this on campus every year, let’s bring all our athletes down here,” Looney said.

Each of the fall sports coaches and players spoke at the event about their upcoming seasons.

Chad Edwards, Western soccer head coach, loved the opportunity to bring together his players with the community.

“We have a great town here, and we’re just trying to bring everyone together and make our university more connected with the community,” Edwards said.

Edwards said this event helps encourage athletes to come Downtown to support local businesses and see more of St. Joseph.

“This Downtown area is really having a change, and it’s cool to see,” Edwards said.

VanZinos BBQ and River Bluff Brewing Co. were on hand to offer food and drinks.

Looney and the athletics department is looking forward to seeing big crowds for the teams

this weekend.

“We’re really excited for the people that are leading our programs this year,” Looney said.

Griffon football starts the season off with their home opener tonight at 7 p.m. against Northwest Missouri State University.