City Council initiates goal setting work sessions

In the face of a strained budget and growing needs in the city, councilors initiated the first of a series of work sessions on Jan. 24 to set goals for the next few year.

At this particular meeting, the purpose was to determine how the council wanted to move forward with its goal setting structure.

“I think it’s been the better part of a decade since the council has taken part in goal setting,” Councilor Michelle Steinhebel noted.

City councilors discuss initial ideas for goals that are important to them.

Interim City Manager Ron Whitlatch told the council that, when considering goals, they should determine what goals they are interested in, how they would achieve it, and what financial or other consequences the goals would create.

It’s important for the council to set policy goals and the City’s staff perform the actions that will achieve those goals, Whitlatch said. Goals for this year already included in the budget are underway, so ideally the new goals will be for the next year or two. The council should decide whether they will hire a moderator to help facilitate the goal setting process and keep the council on task. Whitlatch also suggested the council create goals based on categories (i.e., quality of life, economic development, public safety, recreation, etc.).

“Once you’ve established those categories and what your overarching goals are, then the management team proposes a work plan that fits those goals,” he said.

He reminded the council that the budget should always be at the forefront of their minds when they are setting goals. Additionally, the council might need to consider potential added costs if a deep drawdown at Green Peter Reservoir once again requires heavy water treatment next winter.

Whitlatch mentioned a handful of ideas for possible goals they might consider, including: reopening the jail, code amendments for housing production, or starting a capital fund for the expansion of the children’s room at the library.

A sign indicates the location of the city’s wastewater treatment plant. Engineering Director Ron Whitlatch said the plant will require some funding to fix needed repairs.

However, in the face of the City’s structural deficits, it is facing several needs, he said. These include maintenance for trails and parks, repairs at the wastewater treatment plant, continuing programs such as the library and senior center, preparing for Western University’s expected expansion, development code amendments, redeveloping the Champion Mill Site, moving into a safer City Hall, and infrastructure.

“I think that, until the structural deficit is at least in a manageable place, it’s going to be hard to set goals,” Whitlatch said. “It’s not just ‘we need more money.’ We’re gonna look deep inside the organization and there’s gonna be some uncomfortable discussions about how we get there and what the consequences look like, what the pros and cons of them are with the number one goal still to provide service to the public.”

The council agreed they preferred to focus on strategic five-year plans that would consist of achieving goals in one to two years. They also agreed they wanted to hire a moderator. There was some discussion about the Lebanon 2040 Vision, an action plan created in 2016 based on community input about how citizens want Lebanon to be (look, feel, achieve) by 2040.

Mayor Kenneth Jackola said he believes the 2040 Vision is a good document, but after a while it sort of got set aside, so this goal setting work might be an opportunity to help finish the Vision.

He did a quick survey of the council members to see where their initial interests for goals are. Councilors Carl Mann, Jeremy Salvage, Steinhebel, KJ Ullfers and Dave Workman all agreed one of their biggest goals is public safety in the form of more police staffing and/or reopening the jail. Councilor Wayne Dykstra said he is interested in more parking downtown, perhaps in the form of a parking structure, to encourage economic development downtown. Jackola said he also is interested in economic development.

“Without new growth with businesses and housing, it’s really hard to pay for stuff,” Jackola said.

Water drips into puddles formed by potholes on Pine Street. City councilors hope to be able to tackle the goal of fixing city roads some day.

Workman also expressed interest in a balanced budget and keeping up with infrastructure; Salvage expressed interest in economic development at Cheadle Lake Park and keeping up with infrastructure; Steinhebel specified infrastructure at the westside interceptor; Ullfers also noted infrastructure, more specifically the “ancient, almost Roman-time” sewer and water lines, and he would also like to see the roads fixed.