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City takes a fresh look at goals

During a special session of the New Richmond City Council on Monday night, city officials reviewed their existing strategic planning goals and established some new ones.

City Administrator Mike Darrow led the council through a brainstorming session that lasted about 90 minutes.

At the start, Darrow reminded the council of the goals they had set in 2011, with the help of consultant Pete Kling.

The goals included:

-- Maintaining affordable and effective governmental services.

-- Decreasing the city's overall levy by 2 percent per year.

-- Attaining a minimum of 1 percent of new growth in the city's equalized value in each of the next five years.

-- Decreasing the overall debt of the city when compared to equalized value.

-- Working to improve the cultural and natural amenities of the community.

Darrow asked the council to come up with possible changes to the stated strategic goals, noting that an updated plan would be developed in the coming weeks.

Mayor Fred Horne said he thinks keeping a lid on the city's budget should remain a top priority.

"The last three years we've shown that government can become more efficient," he said. "We've been doing an excellent job on that."

Still, Darrow said, if budget cuts continue at significant rates, city services would eventually suffer. Darrow suggested that the council not state a specific 2 percent cut in the levy but be more general in its goal of making government more efficient.

"Tying it to a specific percentage, I think there's some danger in that," Darrow said.

Council members Roberta Dale-Wozniak and Craig Kittel agreed, saying that residents expect a certain level of service and they don't want to compromise the good work that city employees are accomplishing.

"The 2 percent was never a black and white number," Kittel said. "It was always just a goal."

Council member Jim Zajkowski cautioned that the city needs to continue to move forward on projects, lest the community fall behind on needed upgrades and improvements. At some point down the road, he explained, the community will be forced to spend money to catch up on things.

Kittel said the city's emphasis should continue to be on economic development and growth, because all of the budget issues would be a moot point if more tax dollars are collected.

"The bigger we are, the more tax base we get," he said. "Then you can spend more money to stay ahead of the game."

As for possible new strategic goals, Horne suggested that the city try harder to uncover grant opportunities to help the community pay for needed infrastructure and amenity projects. He explained that several important street projects are waiting to be accomplished (North Fourth Street as a cost of about $2 million and Paperjack Trail as a cost of more than $700,000) and it would be good to lessen the overall cost to local taxpayers.

Horne also suggested that the city continue to emphasize partnerships and cost-sharing agreements to help limit the drain on local tax revenues.

Council member Jane Hansen suggested that the city develop an overall transportation plan, which would include streets, sidewalks and trails. The plan could be used to establish future priorities, she noted.

Additional goals discussed included updating the city's zoning ordinances, coordinating legislative priorities with various partners, providing additional seed money to help attract businesses to town, and continuing to improve communication with the public.

Darrow suggested that the city evaluate all future spending on three factors -- does it aid in reliability, does it add to efficiency or does it help to grow the local economy. If a project doesn't fit into one of those areas, Darrow said, it would not be pursued.

Council members agreed that those three factors would keep the community on track toward meeting its goals and mission statement.

Darrow said the evening's discussion would be compiled into a report, which will be presented at the council's July meeting. An updated strategic plan would then be adopted.

Jeff Holmquist
Jeff Holmquist has been managing editor of the New Richmond News since 2004. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and business administration from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has previously worked as editor in Wadena, Minn.; Detroit Lakes, Minn.; Hutchinson, Minn.; and Bloomington, Minn. He also was previously owner of the Osceola Sun, Stillwater Courier and Scandia Messenger along with his wife. Together they previously founded and published The Old Times newspaper for antiques and collectibles collectors; and Up!, a Christian magazine of hope and encouragement.
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