I hope everyone had a great holiday season and New Year and now we all get back to the daily workday and 2017 projects.
I spent a lot of my first year in 2015 assessing where we were as a city and assembling my staff. In 2016, we started with a concept of rebuilding Middletown to sustainable revenue levels where every year we have the funding available to pave our streets, fix our parks and offer a great quality of life. We mapped out how many additional families and jobs it might take to reach that sustainable revenue level.
Now it’s time to turn the concept into an action plan. 2017 will see the creation of a new Master Plan for the city. The last Master Plan was completed in 2005. It was a very thorough document that listed a lot of great concepts and ideas. The document also had several fatal problems.
First, City Council and staff never really adopted the 2005 Master Plan as the vision for the city. We didn’t budget and plan using that document. It often sat on the shelf in all of our offices as something aspirational but not practical and real.
Second, the recession made the Master Plan almost completely obsolete. As we got into 2008-2009, budget revenues dried up, the city went into lay-off mode, capital projects stalled, and any aspirational goals were abandoned in an attempt to minimize disruption to core public safety and other services. Even if it was a good plan, the recession took away so much of our revenues that there was nothing left to implement good new ideas for the city.
The recession is over. Income tax revenues were at the highest level in a couple decades in 2016. So now is the time to move us forward again.
This Master Plan is going to be different from the previous plan. The 2005 plan was aspirational. Pie in the sky ideas. This plan is designed to be much more practical and operational in nature.
We know about what revenue levels we need to take care of city operations in a sustainable way. We know about how many jobs and/or new families it will take to reach that level. This plan is first and foremost, the plan to gain those jobs and families to reach our required revenue levels.
I’m going to challenge the city in a way that hasn’t been done in recent memory. I’m going to not only ask the hard questions, but offer possible solutions to decade old problems. You’ll like some of it. You won’t like other parts of it. My only request is that if you hate some piece of what I’m doing, tell me why, but also offer an alternative. Part of our problems in the past have stemmed from seeing hard problems and just giving up instead of pushing through them. I’d rather fight over how to fix it than ignore it and watch it continue. It’s easy to just bash and complain, but that doesn’t keep us moving forward. And it’s well past time for all of us to move forward together and finish fixing this city.
We’ll start the new master plan with the sustainable revenue framework I’ve been talking about for over a year now. On top of that, we’ll add in the Community Visioning project completed by the Community Building Institute and Middletown Moving Forward. The sustainable framework is what we need. The community visioning is what we want as a community.
As the visioning document is completed, CBI, MMF and I will be rolling out the concepts captured in that document to ask the question, “Did we get it right?” “What, if anything, is still missing?” As we discuss the results, I’ll take this document to City Council and ask, “Do you believe in the concepts brought forward in the Community Visioning process and are you ready to adopt them in full or in part as part of the policy of the city?”
If the answer is yes, then the famework and the visioning will flavor the rest of the planning process. As we look at economic development, housing, etc., we’ll want to make sure that each piece is consistent with the sustainable framework and the community’s vision of what Middletown should be. Ideally, we’ll create a document that is consistent throughout with the needs and wants of our residents. Housing choices will be consistent with adding families and jobs. Transportation choices will be consistent with the community’s vision for pedestrian, bicycle, automobile and mass transit opportunities throughout the city. And so on.
As we look at each piece of the puzzle, we’ll be rolling them out to the public, discussing them, and eventually seeking Council support that they are ready to adopt each piece as the policy of the city. Future budgets and capital projects should reflect those goals.
If you follow this blog, you’re going to hear from me a lot this year. Welcome to 2017!