By GREG RUSSELL, Register Staff Writer
Officials unveiled a tentative five-year prospectus for the city of Gainesville during Wednesday’s regular Rotary Club meeting, offering details that suggest a sturdy local future.
City Manager Barry Sullivan discussed a preliminary capital improvement program for Gainesville and said intentions toward city progress have been bundled into seven goals: good finances, improvement of basic infrastructure, improved visual appearance, staff efficiency, promotion of economic development, a safe and prepared city; and promotion of cultural and recreational opportunity.
“Those are broad and that covers everything,” he said, adding that all costs in the plan are adjusted for estimation of inflation. “If we have an item in the five-year capital improvement program and it can’t fiscally fit into the five-year budget, it is cut. It is fiscally restrained — and you’ll see a lot of cities that do not fiscally constrain their five-year ‘CIP.’ That, to me, is not a program or a plan; it’s just a wish list.”
Sullivan said capital improvement plans are made annually. He estimated that the average year includes roughly five months of budget and policy analysis in regards to the coming few years ahead.
He also said no preliminary city plan is ever ironclad.
“This is not a Bible, and it will change every single year,” he said.
Sullivan said the chief objective in maintaining good city finances is reaching a point where a 90-day reserve is available in the categories of general funds, water/sewer funds and solid waste funds. Sullivan added that when he began as city manager, the related requirement was only for a 45-day reserve, which later moved to a 60-day requirement. He estimated that by the end of 2013, the city should be operating at the 90-day level.
Sullivan cited several city projects slated through 2017, including some that began during the past two years.
“This is the busiest the city has ever been,” he said.
He discussed the ongoing Street and Utility Maintenance Project (SUMP), which is already bringing overhaul to several city streets. He cited a proposed remodeling of lounge facilities at Gainesville Municipal Airport, an expansion of the Moss Lake water treatment plant and the ongoing Pecan Creek flood damage reduction project, which will widen the creek between Olive and Moss streets and replace six bridges. It is slated for completion in summer 2013. Sullivan also briefly discussed an upgrade of the city’s wastewater treatment plant and the construction of a new community services facility near Gainesville City Hall.
Sullivan said a $75,000 state grant, received several years ago, has been allocated for the creation of a “city gateway” at the intersection of Interstate 35 and California Street that will include new brick arches and trees. City officials plan to demolish up to 20 existing substandard structures within Gainesville limits during 2013. Another planned project is a joint task force among officers in police, fire, city marshal, community services, public works and administration departments to improve “problem” neighborhoods.
Sullivan also cited recent “city cleanup” projects that unfolded during 2012. This included group efforts among local students to clean yards in violation of code — and the demolition of the historic Gainesville Junior High School building on Denton Street and the development of a Boys and Girls Club facility scheduled to surface in its place.
“That’s a true partnership in community,” Sullivan said. “It also made economic sense.”
Gainesville city staff will continue to implement technology training in their operations, Sullivan said. One new program, called “Gainesville University,” requires city staff members to be trained on “every aspect of the city in every department” by spending one day per month learning about a new department. Sullivan also discussed the planned increased use of “Lean Six Sigma,” a corporate efficiency philosophy that originally surfaced during the mid 1980s and increases productivity by reducing waste and combining operations. He also discussed digitized upgrades to the city water system and the police department’s crime mapping system.
Promotion of economic development
Gainesville and Cooke County are currently known as having economies strongly driven by energy companies and the oil-and-gas industry. Sullivan said this shows no signs of changing soon, and city officials aren’t opposed to more of it.
“We’re not going to turn anybody away,” he said. “If it’s a great oil company job, we’re going to take a look at them.”
But Sullivan said the coming years also make a fine time for diversity of industry. He cited the recent Gainesville expansion of GAF, which manufactures roofing materials. It added 40 to 50 new jobs averaging $15 per hour.
More industrial companies such as GAF, he said, would be ideal additions to the roster.
“It’s great impact for property tax and a nice number of higher-paying jobs,” he said.
A safer city
Sullivan said increased safety measures during 2013 and beyond will include increased camera surveillance at Leonard Park, Frank Buck Zoo and other major local thoroughfares; a new ladder truck for the Gainesville Fire Department; a slight increase in police officers and code enforcement officers; and the expansion and maintenance of a trained group of emergency responders.
Culture and recreation
The city’s hotel occupancy tax revenue will be used to promote city-operated tourist spots such as Frank Buck Zoo, Morton Museum of Cooke County, Butterfield Stage Players, local arts councils and nonprofit agencies such as the Boys and Girls Club, which is expected to utilize a series of athletic leagues. Sullivan added that this category of development will get a guaranteed boost during the coming months when the swimming pool facility at Leonard Park re-opens during summer 2013 as a full-scale water park.