2014 deemed ‘Year of the Plan’
Back in August while city staff was beginning to prepare the 2014 budget, New Richmond City Administrator Mike Darrow dubbed 2014 as the “Year of the Plan,” during a city council meeting.
“I wanted to have a mantra for the year,” Darrow said. “Knowing the things that need to get done, I want us to be as prepared for this year as possible. It’s good to take pause a little bit and take inventory. It’ll help us create a shopping list of things that we’ll need in the future so we can start to plan for if we need to spend X number of dollars resurfacing roads, we can have a financial plan on how to pay for that over the next five to 10 years.”
Now, the calendar has turned a page, and 2014 is upon us. With a budget in place, Darrow, along with the council and city staff, is excited to make this an important decision-making year for the city.
“It’s basically just looking at all our systems — internal and external — and just preparing for the future,” Darrow said. “With the (St. Croix River Crossing) bridge and anticipated population increase, it’s a way for us to take a year and really look at everything from zoning to electrical distributions to the televising of sewer pipes, the park plan and everything in between. It’s going to be a big focus for next year to make sure we have good policies and planning in place for the future that are community-guided as we move forward.”
Mayor Fred Horne said he was most excited about the community-guided aspect of the initiative.
“It gives us a great opportunity to have multiple listening sessions on several topics, whether it’s the Community Commons, the library or the interchange at Wall Street and Highway 64,” Horne said. “It just gives us an opportunity to take a step back and listen to the people rather than government always being the driving force and telling everyone what’s happening, I think this is a good year to sit back and listen.”
Horne said the city decision-makers have always struggled with which projects to tackle in which order.
“Projects come up out of the blue, and I think it was Mike who suggested we take a year off,” Horne said. “Rather than the council picking some projects to do, let’s take a year off and listen, and hear what people have to say. Rather than making a jump, why don’t we plan our next move and be somewhat proactive. It was great advice.”
The year won’t be all about listening sessions and waiting for community input. The city is already poised to make big changes that will affect the future, starting with modernizing its zoning ordinance.
“Our zoning ordinance has been outdated for a long time,” Darrow said. “It’s a significant undertaking, and that’s going to bring developers and community members to the table so they understand and provide us some input. Within that zoning ordinance, that will dictate things like sidewalks and different types of zoning and land use in certain areas within the city.”
Darrow said the city is working with consultants to re-write the zoning ordinance in a more visual way by including graphics and illustrations that spell out exactly what is allowed.
The Year of the Plan is touted as looking at the city from not only the ground level, but also from above and from below. The city already has started televising underground sewer pipes. The process involves putting a remote-controlled camera into the pipes to record any leaks or other damage to the pipe system.
Public Works Director Jeremiah Wendt estimates that the city has more than 60 miles of sewer pipe laid underground, and he hopes to televise up to 20 percent of it in 2014. With accurate information about which areas require immediate attention, Wendt can make better decisions on long-term plans as well.
“For wastewater we’re typically looking out 20 years,” Wendt said. “We’re looking at updating that facility plan and looking at other ways to gain efficiencies out at the plant. On the water side, we’ll be identifying the repairs that need to be made and the areas that will be growing. We’ll be doing some more televising of the sewers and trying to figure out where the deteriorated parts are and what needs to be aligned or replaced.”
Come spring, Wendt’s attention will be drawn away from snow plows and ski trails and more toward the city’s parks. Right now, it’s all about creating a plan.
“Right now, we’re putting together a parks plan and identifying hopefully over the winter what areas we want to focus on in the spring as far as adding amenities to parks and all the different things that need to be done in all the different parks in town.”
Wendt is also tasked with putting together a five-year capital improvement plan for the city streets.
“We’ll be trying to identify the projects that are up and coming on the street side,” Wendt said.
A proposal to add a new police officer has been floated to the city council, but Horne wants to use the Year of the Plan as an opportunity to study what police staffing levels ought to be.
“Before we do that, I think we need to engage the public, and take a long, hard look at this,” Horne said. “What level police do we want? If you look at similar communities the same size as New Richmond, or similar size, some staff one officer per 400, and others are almost one officer per 600. So, how much police force do we need, and do we want?”
Horne said listening sessions should be held on the topic because it affects their lives and they’re the ones paying for it.
Resident interested in getting involved with city staff and city officials about any aspect of the Year of the Plan can check the city’s website for updates about any upcoming listening sessions or contact Darrow at 715-246-4268.