Mac council establishes 2013 goals
The meeting, held in conjunction with the city’s department heads with the aid of a facilitator, featured a wide-ranging discussion of all the various issues facing the city and a determination of which ones councilors believe are most critical to address in the coming year.
This year’s goals include putting more resources into the information technology department, currently run part-time by Murray Paolo, whose services are shared with the county; establishing a system to tape city council meetings; weighing pros and cons of the creation of an urban renewal district downtown; and opening conversations with the county about how the Riverbend Landfill affects local quality of life.
The last issue is one the council has ducked previously. However, residents have spoken about it during council meetings, and councilors said they have decided it’s time they began addressing it as well.
They said they plan to hold at least one public hearing in the coming year, to invite residents to offer perspectives.
City Manager Kent Taylor told the council tight budgeting in recent years has helped see the city through, but said the city is eventually going to tap new revenue sources or begin cutting services significantly.
Taylor has argued in recent years against any effort to raise property taxes, saying it would have little chance during a depressed economy.
But councilors concluded Saturday it was time to start at least talking to residents about the issue and building the city’s case. They said it can be done on a number of levels, through the public access cable channel, and the city website.
Police Chief Ron Noble asked the council to establish a formal policy for its policing goals, as it did a couple of years ago with it fire prevention and suppression goals.
The police department is understaffed, he said. It is able to respond to calls, but not engage in meaningful preventive programs.
If an officer is injured or sick, someone has to be pulled from another duty, just to provide minimum coverage, Noble said.
Given the economic challenges the city faces, he said, he isn’t necessarily requesting more staff. But he is asking the council to formally establish its priorities for his department.
He said the notion that McMinnville is exempt from the types of crime in larger cities is wrong; its violent crime rate, in particular, is high for the area, partly due to an elevated number of sexual assaults. And he believes crime rate is directly tied to the staffing level.
Councilors were receptive to his request. They said they would like to hold similar discussions about the IT department, particularly after hearing Paolo say how it’s struggling with just three staff members under his direction.
“In 2007, we talked about being staff-constrained,” Paolo said. “Due to budget realities, we stopped talking about it. But the problem is still there.
“In aviation, you talk about the first priority being to fly the airplane. It’s becoming more and more difficult to fly the airplane.”
The city has undergone software upgrades in various departments, as it tries to meet the challenge of less money and staff with enhanced computer capability. But staff is needed to research and implement those upgrades, and keep the software running when problems are encountered, Paolo said.
Councilors were clearly listening.
“We are asking our other departments to do more and more on automation. We need to have the staff in place to support that,” Mayor Rick Olson said.
Although Paolo did not propose specific measures to alleviate the strain on his department, the council had some to offer, including making the department head full-time and engaging in more strategic planning.
Paolo said the department does have a strategic plan in place, developed a few years ago, and is making progress in following it. He promised the council an update at a future meeting.
Parks and Recreation Director Jay Pearson told the council that his department is one of the few able to bring in money with fees and is trying to do so. It’s a balancing act, he said, because if fees go up too much, demand drops too low to support the programs.
He said he is also working to encourage businesses to sponsor some programs and seeking to identify workable outside partners, like the Soil & Water Conservation District.
Although the council does not expect to find funding in the coming year for a new Fixed Base Operation at the airport, it put consideration of the issue on its list of goals for the year, to make it clear how it continues to be a priority. City Community Development Director Mike Bisset noted the airport commission has a subcommittee looking into possible funding sources.
The council has been discussing enactment of a room tax on local lodging, something most cities its size already have. It plans to continue discussions with the McMinville Downtown Association and McMinnville Area Chamber of Commerce during the upcoming budget session.
Councilors discussed the possibility of using some of the money such a tax would generate to make local transportation improvements.
It also decided to review the vision for the McMinnville Economic Development Partnership with its partners.
In the past year, the MEDP has taken on a contract to provide services for the county. Although City Manager Kent Taylor and Planning Director Doug Montgomery assured the council the move is temporary, not everyone was reassured.
Olson said he’s concerned MEDP’s focus is moving away from city and toward the county. He questioned whether the city should continue providing a large share of the funding if that’s the case.
The council has delayed having the local public access cable channel tape council meetings, in part because of the cost of purchasing recording equipment. But Olson said he’d like to start this year, at some level.
Councilors suggested asking McMinnville Community Media to begin recording with its own portable cameras, with a city commitment to purchase permanent recording equipment at some future date.