— By BRIAN SMITH
Weatherford City Council members took a step toward “stop talking and start doing” with a Strategic Plan work session Thursday evening.
Strategic Plans are used by cities as a way of setting budgetary goals. They are evaluated every so often, which helps officials during the budget process each year. Weatherford’s plan was last evaluated in 2008 right before the recession hit, Director of Management and Budget Chad Janicek said.
“This gives us an opportunity to see if the goals and priorities we adopted in 2008 still apply today,” Janicek said.
Mary Wieder with Strategic Counseling Services said a survey was given out before Christmas to council members and city department heads to find out the positives and issues the city is facing through their eyes.
Council members saw customer service, the friendly nature of the town and being an upwardly mobile community the best things about living in the city. Staff members saw the rich history of the city, being close to the Metroplex, parks and new shopping opportunities as some of their favorite things.
Some of the changes both entities have seen over the last four to five years include Weatherford becoming a hub for surrounding communities and increased growth, which comes with the normal “growing pains.” Changes that need to happen, in the eyes of those surveyed, include a more aggressive attitude toward debt obligations, getting a better handle on infrastructure and looking toward the future.
Other changes identified include understanding the city’s growth and where it’s coming from, budgeting for long-term goals instead of the proverbial “wish list,” and having more family oriented businesses.
Many of the recommended changes needed to be made coincide with what were seen as issues facing the city, including the transportation and infrastructure needed, areas of the city beginning to show their age, meeting residents expectations and a need for strategic direction.
After the survey results were released, Wieder took council and staff through a Strengths, WeakNesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) Analysis.
City officials saw some other positives not listed in the survey, including a “fair, competitive” tax rate, the city having a unique identity, great schools and medical services, a healthy economic climate and a “city staff that is second to none.”
“Our greatest asset as a city is our employees and staff,” Mayor Pro Tem Craig Swancy said.
The city’s tax rate, one of the lowest in the area, also forces more of a reliance on sales tax monies, which can be fickle, Janicek said.
The reliance on sales tax monies was considered a weakness, as well as the ability to communicate with citizens, or as Mayor Dennis Hooks called it, “spreading the word.”
Infrastructure and the need to play catch up with it and aging thoroughfares were discussed by nearly all on the dais. Council member Heidi Wilder said the visual clutter on many of the highways leading in and out of town was distracting. Council member Jeff Robinson said getting a fresh set of eyes on the problem could help.
“We look to correcting Main Street and Fort Worth Highway, but sometimes we can’t see the forest through the trees,” Robinson said. “We get so used to it we don’t notice it anymore.”
While the downtown area is considered a strength, it is underutilized, Robinson said. Wieder said while driving through town, he saw an opportunity for York Street to become an antique hub north of the downtown area.
A need for consistent staff direction and getting citizens involved in the government process were seen as things that needed to be improved. Director of Community Relations and Parks and Recreation Danielle Felts said once services and new programs are brought out they should be staffed.
“We tend to focus on the savings,” Felts said.
City Manager Jerry Blaisdell said there is a chance to maintain the historical identity of the town and absorb the fast growth going on right now with some good planning.
“A lot of cities in the area have grown and been unable to keep what got them there in the first place,” Blaisdell said. “This is our chance to get it right.”
Swancy said he envisions a time where cars are heading here much “like Fredericksburg on any weekend,” in the future. Hooks said having a citizens’ survey and asking them for opinions could be done as part of the Strategic Plan process. “We need to try and think forward, more outside of the box,” Hooks said.
Promotion of First Monday Trade Days, Chandor Gardens and other city entities OFFERS a huge opportunity for growth. Blaisdell said expansion and promotion of the Farmers Market and use of the First Monday Trade Days Park for outdoor concert or convention space would also be beneficial.
Upgrading standards on roads and utility infrastructure is important to maintain growth prudently in the eyes of Swancy.
“The standards we used 20 years ago don’t apply today because of all the growth,” Swancy said.
Doing everything that needs to be done and keeping cost of living under control in the city Is seen as a threat by Hooks. Losing identifiable green space and the city’s unique identity because of development from the east is also a threat.
The city is also in need of a new comprehensive plan, which is 13 years old, Swancy said.
Overall, city officials said becoming more proactive instead of reactive is important if the city wants to grow and still maintain its identity.
After the analysis, council and staff members evaluated all the ideas and ranked what they considered the biggest needs. Wieder said he would need about a month to go over the data, which he would then present at a future council meeting.