Another economic development link

One of the elephants in the room

The Strong Towns blog is one of my favorites because of its big picture/local scale approach backed up by real data.   Here’s today’s blog post Starter Strategies for a Strong Town.    I’d love to see Northfield go through these “ten things all local governments should be doing right now to start the transition into a new economic reality”

1. 5 year budget: Interim City Administrator Tim Madigan has proposed and the Council agreed to a two year budget cycle, so we’re moving in the right direction.

2. Base Line Workload Analysis – Essentially, cities need to analyze staffing and workload needs to allocate resources to the most productive way to deliver services.  The ST folks suggest:

Each task that the city and its staff perform should be listed and put into at least three different categories:

  1. Those things that are mandated by the State and Federal Gov’t
  2. Those things that are required by the Council or another public body
  3. Those things that are done exclusively for the staff

Once this task list is assembled, there can be a productive discussion about what tasks should continue, which can be cut, which can be reworked and then how the workload should be distributed. Only then can an informed decision on the needed level of staffing be made.

3. Real Capital Improvements Plan –  I agree with the ST people that “maintenance of infrastructure is the elephant in the room that cities simply can’t ignore any longer.”   They recommend:

A complete inventory of all of the infrastructure currently maintained, its condition, an estimate of its remaining life and an approximate cost for its replacement/maintenance is the first step. With modern GIS and database systems and a cadre of trained volunteers, most of this information is reasonably obtainable.

And I’d add that we should have a complete inventory of all our facilities and capital equipment, too, with the same sort of information.  Indeed, we should have had this information before we ever began our Safety Center discussions.

4. Form-based code throughout historic neighborhoods.  Sigh.  Back when the Comp Plan was being drafted (2006 and 2007), the consultants promised a “form-based code” to go with the plan (the city even sent the city planner off to learn about form-based codes at your expense), but when the draft arrived (from the same consultants, sort of), the result was not form-based, but regulations trying to micro-manage uses.  The Planning Commission has made great progress, but more could certainly be done.

5. New Road and street standards: another cost and value of infrastructure point.  Also supported by the GreenStep cities program in which we are participating.

6. Coordination of park investments with economic development: A point certain to tick off the 1st and 2nd wavers in our economic development circles.

7. Walkability Study

8. Implement an Import Replacement economic development strategy: Another point guaranteed to bother the smokestack chasers.

9. Small business subsidy plan: Or, incentivizing the businesses we are likely to attract as well as help our existing businesses grow.

10. Gov. 2.0 Public engagement platform: this one will thrill Griff Wigley over at Locally Grown who has been hocking me (for years now) about engaging citizens where they are (that is, on-line).  The Council has touched on using social media and upgrading the web-site and the IT plan we are going to discuss tomorrow (it’s in the packet for the worksession) is another nudge in this direction.