City to keep public informed

Board discusses ways to let residents know city’s achievements
Feb. 20, 2014 @ 07:40 PM

Members of the Henderson City Council are concerned local residents often don’t know where their taxes go.

At a two-day planning retreat, they considered strategies to better inform the public about the accomplishments of the city.

On Wednesday evening, the council members met at Henderson Country Club to review results of a survey on the city’s existing strategic plan and set an agenda for updating it.

On Thursday, they met in the Farm Bureau Room of Perry Memorial library to work through the strategic plan item by item and join with city staff members to develop suggested actions.

Mayor Pro Tem Mike Rainey began the discussion on keeping the public informed. He suggested the city should emphasize visible projects residents can see.

Councilwoman Sara Coffey picked up on that thought.

“When they pay their water bill, they couldn’t care less that we have a million dollar project going on,” she said. “What they want to see is their sidewalk repaired. That’s what’s affecting them.”

Councilman Garry Daeke said getting good information to the public was the key.

“Every department has to generate information,” he said. “I’d like to see a story every week or so about what each department is doing.”

When asked if that would be a burden on staff members, he replied, “It would give them a chance to brag about their accomplishments.”

The city’s strategic plan, which was adopted in 2009, included eight objectives. Those objectives were updated in September 2012 and are included in the 2013-2015 Strategic Plan and Balanced Scorecard: implementing process improvements; reducing crime; enhancing economic development; improving housing stock; ensuring reliable infrastructure; retaining a qualified municipal workforce; expanding leisure services; and providing sufficient funding for municipal services.

Council members agreed the Aycock Recreation Center is a superior facility. But they were concerned that it is not easily accessible to a large portion of Henderson’s population.

“That’s a beautiful site,” George Daye said. “But it’s a problem for a lot of inner-city children to get there.”

Recreation Director Alan Gill was asked how much staff he has for maintenance. He replied that three maintenance personnel are responsible for both the grounds and the facilities at all the recreation sites. “That includes 55 acres of grass,” he said.

The council discussed ways of making public services more convenient. One suggestion was to develop one-stop permits.

“Several years ago, people had to go to ten different places to pay their bills,” Councilwoman Sara Coffey said. “We asked the city manager to work on it. They’ve done some good work on it, but it’s not complete.”

The goal would be one place, one time and one check to pay for utilities, permits and other city bills.

“What this current action plan does not do is to reach out to the county to establish a joint office or something else,” City Manager Ray Griffin said. “We’re beginning discussions with the county.”

On housing, Griffin said the city is taking a three-pronged approach. The first is to encourage urban homesteading. Griffin described this as saying to a potential homeowner, “We’ll give you this lot with a house on it if you’ll keep it up.”

A second component is aggressive code enforcement. The third component is third-party partnerships, in which the city joins with property owners to work toward improving a property.

Councilwoman Brenda Peace-Jenkins suggested foreclosed property the city owns might be donated to non-profit organizations.

Police Chief Marcus Barrow reported on discussions by a work group on crime.

“We have a problem with perception versus reality,” he said.

He pointed out that a few crimes in Henderson create what appears to be a high crime rate compared with larger cities because of the difference in population. The rate of property crimes has gone down in recent years, he said. He also expressed concern that, because of the number of plea bargains, many perpetrators are soon back on the street.

In a wide-ranging discussion, the council members looked at issues related to maintaining a low tax rate in a down economy, expanding the tax base and offering incentives to attract business.

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.