Planning, communication goal for a packed 2011

In a year packed with municipal business, city staff is pushing for information gathering, analysis and an accountability agreement to manage and accomplish its more ambitious tasks.

"Our goal is to say here is what you asked us to do and let's check back-in and see what we have accomplished," said Interim City Manager Brenda Bauer. "We understand the concerns from citizens wondering what they are getting for their tax dollars, and wondering what actually gets done at the city. This is our way of staying focused and demonstrating transparently about what we are asked to do."

As part of a major strategic planning initiative, the city administration presented the first-quarter results of their accountability agreement to council at a recent meeting. The agreement, which was first discussed at the council retreat in January, details the 2011 capital work plan and provides a check-in tool to determine what tasks are finished and delayed.

The accountability agreement is coupled with the long-term, decision-making goal to better inventory and manage the $200 million city-owned capital asset portfolio.

"This is a long-term process we are undertaking, and the first year or two especially involves a major investment in information gathering," said Bauer. "But we are focusing on capital first because that is often one of the biggest dollar issues with city investments. It's easy to run from problem to problem and not have any sense of the entire picture. It's better to layout a course of action that rolls down as you make a budget and decide how to spend money in the coming year."

After a lengthy budget process, the city whittled down its staff by approximately 28 full-time equivalent employees in the fall. The city's responsibilities, however, didn't get any smaller. Among its capital portfolio include utility infrastructure valued at over $38 million, facilities valued over $15 million and land valued at nearly $73 million – totaling $207,020,323 in assets, according to a recent city memo.

Much of that infrastructure was constructed around or before the 1960s and is either already in need of replacement or soon will be, and has suffered from a lack of maintenance and deterioration, the memo states.

In order to better manage and understand infrastructure needs, city staff seeks more research and analysis to understand what level of annual funding is required to support the existing assets. Many of the most recent system studies are more than 10 years old, according to the memo, and continued deferral of the problem could lead to costly disasters down the road if analysis is not done to determine a holistic health of city assets.

With a full plate of work items to finish in 2011 the accountability agreement will be a direct correspondence between the city and the council and public to determine how closely the city is completing the work they outlined in the beginning of the year.

Completed tasks from January to March include: the bid and development of the capital repairs in the annual roads program budget; establishment of nine residential leases for the open water marina; updated internal policies and procedures on external communication and records requests; updated financial reporting standards, including new monthly and quarterly reports; the initial pavement condition assessment on the health of the island road network; and a new staffing structure, job descriptions and more explicit expectations of staff performance.

A portion of the sewer objectives and the drainage culvert program review were pushed back to a later date due to staff time spent on winter storm and landslide complications.

"It's really impressive ... we didn't realize how much work [city staff] had done," said Mayor Kirstin Hytopoulos. "A lot of this stuff is new, like a complete road analysis and an accountability agreement. This is exactly what we were hoping for from the councilor-manager form of government."

The first-quarter road analysis is an example of the kind of fact-finding the city wants to pursue. The roads study analyzed the entire road network and provided an overall score, individual grades for arterials and an estimate, between $1 million to $1.3 million, of what it would cost to adequately maintain the road network year after year.

Through the process, the city learned that the $400,000 budgeted for the 2011 and 2012 maintenance program was far less than what is required to preserve and maintain the roads at its most basic necessary level.

The city hopes to embark on this degree of analysis for all city assets, from facilities to equipment, real estate and utility infrastructure.

With a full agenda, the city administration hopes the accountability agreement will help keep the council informed and the city on track with workplan goals.

"This is exactly where we need to be going," said Councilor Hilary Franz. "Not only is the council and administration on the same page about work and what gets accomplished in 2011, but this also helps the whole community understand what is being delivered. It will build that overall trust and transparency in government."

The agreement is meant to describe the activities that go beyond the day-to-day services and functions the city government provides, Deputy City Manager Morgan Smith said. Items listed in the accountability agreement may be of a higher degree of interest to the public, include new policies or need increased communication and visibility in the community, she added.

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