Within the next two years, the City of Lawrence wants to finish the East Ninth Street Project, bring fiber internet to the community and develop a master plan for downtown.
Those tasks are among eight initiatives decided Monday at the city’s strategic planning meeting, all of which are set to be completed in one to two years. Although several city staff members said they liked the specific direction that only eight priorities provided, some commissioners had concerns that the initiatives were limiting.
“As we got to this part of the process and we narrowed it down to eight, I started to panic, because I thought, ‘Wait, wait, wait, there’s other stuff that’s important,’” Commissioner Lisa Larsen said. “So I’m concerned about that, but I’m very hopeful that we can keep our focus on the plan as a whole.”
The eight initiatives are related to broader elements of the strategic plan, which were broken into seven factors that covered topics such as economic growth, fiscal planning and commitment to core services.
City Manager Tom Markus said he thought the specific, short-term initiatives were needed to help the commission narrow its focus, and that it didn’t prevent the commission from dealing with other issues as they arise.
“While you may have a little bit of concern about what the items are and whether there are enough items, I think these processes tend to evolve over time,” Markus said. “And I witnessed this happen, and they actually grow stronger over time. So there’s a little trepidation right now and I think if you stick to this, in the long run, this will serve the community very well.”
The identification of the eight initiatives was the product of a five-hour, consultant-led strategic planning meeting Monday that included commissioners and officials from the city’s various departments. Each commissioner identified several priorities, resulting in a pool of dozens of initiatives that a vote narrowed down to the final eight.
Commissioner Matthew Herbert said the process was an opportunity to have some good conversations among staff and commissioners about the issues, and he hoped it would improve how the city determines its policies.
“I’ll be interested to see where we take this going forward and whether this can prove to be a more focused approach to policy making,” Herbert said.
The eight initiatives, facilitated by The Novak Consulting Group, are as follows:
• City advisory boards: Inventory and evaluate the role of existing advisory boards and commissions and identify opportunities to consolidate or sunset as appropriate. The city has approximately 30 advisory boards, and Herbert said that the quantity of boards hurts the quality. Markus noted that the city has multiple economic development reviews that tend to get confused and take a lot of time.
• Training and staff development: Review the city’s processes for ongoing professional development and align efforts to achieve excellence amid the commission’s priorities. Assistant City Manager Casey Toomay said the city needed to recognize staff that have potential and get them training to move into leadership positions.
• High-speed internet: Identify barriers to having high-speed fiber throughout Lawrence and facilitate development of the necessary infrastructure by the private sector. Commissioner Mike Amyx said the city needs to better understand the technology needs in the community and make sure they are met.
• East Ninth Street Project: Review the Ninth Street plans and develop a proposal to complete the road infrastructure and determine ability to add creative and artistic elements. Markus said the direction at this point is to come back with a scaled-down proposal in March and have the commissioners determine which way they want to go.
• Maintenance plan: Develop a city facilities master plan and comprehensive facility maintenance plan. Mayor Leslie Soden said the city needs to include operational costs, not just construction costs, in its plans for facilities. Markus said the city operates out of so many locations that it’s influencing the cost of day-to-day operations.
• Budgeting core services: Develop a plan to implement priority-based budgeting. Commissioner Lisa Larsen said the city needs to have equitable funding options to ensure the quality of the city’s core services.
• Financial planning: Develop and communicate the city’s long-term financial strategy. Finance Director Bryan Kidney said the long-term financial outlook is a part of the budget process, but that it could be tied to the strategic plan's seven factors and more clearly communicated to the commission and the public.
• Downtown master plan: Develop a master plan for downtown that includes desirable assets, infrastructure and uses. Having a plan for downtown was related to the city’s economic growth and security, and Herbert said he thought the city should focus on what was already working to ensure downtown’s success.
Monday was the third and final strategic planning meeting that was led by The Novak Consulting Group. The strategic plan will inform the city’s budget planning this spring, and will be reviewed again by the commission following the election in November.