Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Top Ten List of Challenges

As this column goes to press I do not know the outcome of the resolution submitted by the Mayor to terminate my employment with the City. At the July 7 meeting I will ask that the resolution be withdrawn or rejected, and that a list of items that I need to work on be presented with a timetable for completion. I believe that anyone deserves that opportunity, especially someone who has been in this position for eight highly productive years. The Chamber’s resolution calls for giving me that opportunity as well.

There is no doubt that our town faces a host of long-standing challenges, which now have the added difficulty of a poor economy. However, the City Commissions of the last eight years have adopted a Strategic Plan and have implemented strategies to address these challenges. Let’s take a look at our town’s “top ten list of challenges”:
  • Preparation of this year’s budget. Declining revenues will make it very difficult to balance next year’s budget. The additions of prime commercial properties to our tax base kept it from declining as much as some other cities in the county.

  • Economic Development. The City Commission’s approval of a Chapter 180 plan for the SR 60 west area to Petersen Industries will bring into the City any industry wishing to locate there and connect to central utilities. Airport improvements will also help attract businesses to our town.

  • Continued revitalization of downtown. At the July 7 meeting the Commission will consider the first step in the re-development of the Grand Hotel with the selected developer. There is also a CDBG grant to fund landscaping improvements. These activities follow the recent re-surfacing of the downtown streets, and the installation of additional water lines and fire hydrants are facilitating the renovation of several properties with code-required fire safety systems.

  • Continued revitalization of Lincoln Ave. This effort should get a real boost when the Walker building at the corner of Lincoln and C St is renovated. The City took ownership of this 8,000 square foot building through foreclosure for code enforcement liens, and the Green and Gold Foundation is seeking investors to work with the CRA on plans to create apartments downstairs and professional offices upstairs. One building nearby, the barbershop, has been renovated, and several buildings will get facelifts using CDBG funds.

  • Building trust. The incident involving Sgt. Burney Hayes seemed to open questions regarding City, police, and citizen relations. In addition to directives in the strategic plan, city staff will continue to reach out to build trust through open communications and transparency.

  • Repairing the wastewater plant. With a change in wastewater staff came the discovery that several plant components were under-designed and will not function properly as flow increases. Recently the City Commission approved the funding for design changes and the City will apply for state revolving loan funds next month to construct the re-designed plant components.

  • The pool. The City Commission put aside the money to build the pool… but where will the money come from to pay for operational costs? Unity in Community is preparing a report.

  • The 1919 building. This 11 year project remains unfinished at the two-thirds (or so) mark due to a lack of funding. While grants were the stated funding source at the outset, it appears that grant funding has dried up. The building will be closed up until more funds can be raised. It is hoped that a coalition of arts organizations would take up this worthwhile project.

  • Financial footing. The City has made much progress in building reserves since the discovery in 2001 that General Fund reserves were dangerously low. Interim financial reports are now provided monthly to avoid such unpleasant surprises, along with a fiscal impact review for each agenda item.

  • Water supply. The City’s water use permit issued by the Southwest Florida Water Management District expires next year. City staff is working on the renewal.
The City Commission and staff are already working on each issue. Citizen comments, particularly at the budget meetings to be scheduled in August, will be welcomed.
As a footnote, if the resolution for my termination goes forward, hiring a new City Manager will add another challenge to the list.