Looking at the New Year

City managers are accustomed to being criticized, both for things we can influence and those we can’t.  Not long ago, I heard a criticism from a City employee about this blog focusing on budget issues just before the Christmas season.   I did not intend to cast a pall over anyone’s holiday celebration as I expressed some of my concerns about the coming budget year, and I apologize if my explanation of the Budget Task Force caused undue anxiety.

I do not see the coming year as a time of crisis or disaster.  Every day when (if) we find our way out of bed and confront the circumstances of our life, we need to recognize at some level that we are likely to encounter challenges.  The City’s financial concerns will require us to do some things differently in the months ahead, but I do not expect to see widespread layoffs or service reductions.

We laid off one employee at the beginning of the current fiscal year, and there are several positions we will probably not fill until our financial condition improves.  We will almost certainly see reductions in travel and training budgets, as well as less money for new equipment.  I won’t try to guess all the changes that the Budget Committee and Council might consider, except to say that they  are likely to include many of the suggestions from the Budget Task Force in addition to recommendations from departmental budget processes.

The budget is not the only challenge the City will confront in 2010.  Just as retirements create opportunities to conserve resources, they also represent the loss of skilled employees whose experience can be difficult to replace.  I know we will be losing a number of people I greatly respect.  Our challenge will be to turn these losses into opportunities for individuals and the City as a whole.

I really did not expect major new commercial developments anytime soon, despite the interest shown by Lowe’s and SmartCentres/Wal-Mart.  I hope these projects are evidence of increased economic activity and growth in the year ahead.  The City will also be an active partner with other jurisdictions and private business in an attempt to help fill the void left by the closure of the Millersburg paper mill.  Cities can play an important economic development role by insuring that there are a variety of available industrially zoned sites adequately served by urban infrastructure.

The City’s wetland partnership with Millersburg and Wah Chang; the completion of the REA Building near the train station; various street improvements; and progress toward new police and fire stations are a few of the projects City staff will be engaged in during 2010.  Difficult economic times create challenges, but they should not bring progress to a standstill.

My recent trip to Ethiopia was a vivid reminder of how much we have even when we have less than usual.  I find it hard to be pessimistic when I see the many great people and resources available to the City to deliver services and address problems.  A little criticism provides me with an incentive to do better.

Season’s Greetings

I hope to be home soon after this message is published, and I’ve been looking forward to the traditional holiday feast.  My wife just informed me, however, that we will be having dinner with my son’s in-laws who are planning an Italian Christmas dinner.  I’m not sure what will be on the table, but I’ll be happy for the opportunity to be with family.  If anyone needs to give away some leftover turkey, I do know of one household that might be interested.

It’s easy to get caught up in the trappings of the season and lose sight of the things that are most important.  Children and grandchildren seem to grow so quickly that we don’t have time to really appreciate all they add to our lives when they are small.  As a parent, I remember thinking it would be nice when all the children are toilet trained.  Fortunately, they all passed that hurdle, and then I wanted them to be more independent so my wife and I could have a little more freedom to do things we enjoyed.  It didn’t take long for our children to become teenagers, a time when I recall wondering why I ever decided to become a parent.  Now my children are all grown and all have families of their own.

I want the grandchildren to stay small for as long as possible.  The little people are so trusting, and it’s fun to watch their delight in simple things.  My youngest grandchild, Porter, discovered his toes not long ago; and I suspect he’s getting more enjoyment out of them than anything he’ll receive this Christmas.  Of course, it’s easy for a grandparent to become sentimental about small children.  I rarely change their diapers, and I give them back to their parents when they do something disagreeable.

I’ve also been guilty (again) of wanting them to grow so that I could subject them to adventure hikes and grueling travel experiences.  My sons and I are planning a brief road trip to the Rose Bowl, and I wish some of the grandkids were old enough to join the fun.  My sons have apparently forgotten the rigors of our last bowl game road trip in 2005, although I remember that adventure with some fondness.  I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to drive 40 hours over three days to watch a Duck football game.

Part of the joy of this season is the expectations and hope it engenders.  All things are possible, and I am grateful for the family and friends who make them all worthwhile.