Board reviews action plan

Feb. 21, 2014 @ 06:21 PM

In the retreat held by the Henderson City Council this week, City Manager Ray Griffin reported on progress on action items contained in the city’s strategic plan. First developed in 2009, the plan has been reviewed and updated annually.

A number of action items are marked as completed, including the development of a strategic plan. Adoption of a schedule of four-year staggered terms for the mayor and council members was completed with the 2013 election.

City sanitation services were privatized in 2010 to complete another action item, Griffin said.

Still in progress are efforts to improve communication with residents. Among the accomplishments listed are a new city website and the insertion of budget information in utility bill mailings. Communicating with the public is complicated, Griffin said, by the fact that the city has no public information office.

Added to the action items is an effort to improve Henderson’s image, which is tarnished by a perception that the city is unsafe. Police Chief Marcus Barrow said there is a problem of perception versus reality. The few killings in Henderson give it a high homicide rate despite the low number of incidents because rate is based on population size, he said.

Property crimes have been reduced in recent years, Barrow said. The action plan attributes progress to the increased number of community watch groups, collaboration with media, partnerships with the business community, passage of state legislation dealing with career criminals and the implementation of geographic policing.

Under economic development, Griffin indicated an item to develop an annexation plan had been deleted from the plan.

“The General Assembly pretty much abolished that one,” Griffin said, a reference to the 2011 law that allows property owners to stop an involuntary annexation if 60 percent of them sign a protest petition.

A partnership with Vance County resulted in the joint Economic Development Commission, which was re-established in 2009.

Mixed results were reported for downtown redevelopment. An effort to rehabilitate an empty tobacco warehouse to house a community and business center failed. Loss of the Recreation, Economic Development, Education and Family Project resulted in the withdrawal of a grant by the Golden Leaf Foundation.

On the positive side, the Hope VI housing project was successfully completed. Thirty-three housing units were created by remodeling second story space along Garnett Street. The project was funded by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funds, which were matched by local property owners.

The action plan indicated no progress in funding the replacement of city-owned vehicles, but Griffin said the need is critical; many of them have high mileage and others are simply worn out.

In relation to infrastructure, a capital improvement plan was completed in 2011. Progress continues in expanding the Kerr Lake Regional Water Plant and upgrading the sewage treatment plant.

A performance pay study is nearing completion. However, a merit pay and cost-of-living adjustment for city workers was removed from the strategic plan in 2010. Proposals have been made to find ways of retaining qualified staff and of funding raises in order to be competitive in the job market.

Creating additional walking and biking trails will be included as goals in the Recreation Master Plan now being developed.

The council members expressed concern about the difficulties inner city youth have in using Aycock Recreation Center because of its location. Councilman James Kearney asked if KARTS could provide transportation for those who don’t have their own transportation. Parks and Recreation Director Alan Gill said many youth organizations and churches provide transportation for their groups.

Underlying much of the discussion was money. Board members agreed they needed to find ways to increase revenue without raising taxes. Reducing the city’s debts was suggested as another way to improve the financial situation though Griffin said that may not be possible.

“We’ve refinanced twice in the last five years,” he said. “We’re about at the end of what we can refinance.”

Griffin said the action plan will be revised based on suggestions made during the retreat and brought to the council in the first week in April.

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.