Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Strategic Plan

Having a strategic plan is a good thing, but failing to incorporate all priorities calls into question the viability of any such plan. I received by e-mail today a copy of Ron Darden's recommendations to Council from the Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS), and the last page is a cause for grave concern.

Recommendations:

1. Revise the property tax limitation goal that is directed at operating budgets already operating below the 25th percentile level for comparable cities and make the goal less ambiguous or delete the goal.

2. Develop a strategic planning process that involves the community on a regular basis.

3. Use a facilitator to guide the planning process, but do not substitute a facilitator for the planning process.

4. Identify the services that the city will provide and those that the city will not provide. Fund desirable services with available and anticipated revenues.

5. Review all operating departments to ensure that they are operating at the appropriate level of service and that they are operating efficiently and effectively.

6. Increase non- property tax revenue where possible.

7. If the city thinks that it is important to minimize the effect of the local property tax rate, consider limiting the annual school appropriation by some agreed upon percentage.

Summary

The city needs to develop an effective and continuous strategic planning process with goals that are clear, concise, and understood by the staff and citizens. The school system, one of the academically, very best in the state, requires substantial appropriations from the city’s general fund. This is the primary reason that the city’s property tax rate is above the 75th percentile level for comparable cities. When city operating departments are compared with comparable cities, less the education appropriation, they operate below the 25th percentile level for comparable cities. City services may suffer if the departmental budgets are reduced by 16% in meeting the stated strategic goal of limiting the property tax rate to the 75th percentile level of comparable cities. The city would be wise to explore other alternatives in the strategic planning process.


If I'm reading this right, Darden recommends limiting school appropriations longer-term to some preconceived percentage, because it would harm other city services to limit their budgets. Does he -- or more importantly, do Council members -- believe that limiting appropriations to education will not similarly cause harm to that sector of City services?

This recommendation seems to point in the dangerous direction of pitting one department (the schools) against all others... which I truly believe is a bad idea. Yet, my first reaction upon reading it was this:

How many people move here because our Parks & Recreation Department is so great?
How many people move here because of our top-notch fire department? (that's not sarcasm... they really are terriffic.)
How many move here because of our police department?

Add them all up, and ask if the total is more than the number who move here for our school system. I really don't think so. It is an unrealistic goal that all of our city services -- including schools -- should be of a higher standard than our so-called "comparable cities" (Maryville, Bristol, Morristown, Smyrna, and Cookeville)?

Quality isn't cheap, but it is often the best value.

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