Council kicks off broad planning process

SALEM – City council members kicked off a process this week to help them plan ahead for spending and action related to infrastructure, community development, housing and zoning and services to residents.

“I think it’s really going to be beneficial,” Councilman Dave Nestic said.

Nestic chairs the Committee of the Whole, which includes all seven council members, and that’s where he unveiled his proposal for a five-year planning process, one that once formulated, can be reviewed each year.

The committee met Thursday night to review his idea, which appeared to garner no opposition, and assigned council members to chair or co-chair the four sub-committees which will fall under the Committee of the Whole and a Planning Committee which will oversee the process.

Nestic noted that they’ve talked about a five-year planning process for a number of years and various groups have approached council with a number of plans asking them to take certain actions. Instead of strategic planning for the long haul, they tend to make decisions on the expenditures in front of them.

In his written presentation, he wrote that the objective is to “develop a document with a priorized list of actionable items for the main functions of the city (infrastructure, community development, housing and zoning, and services) to which council and administration can refer when planning budgets, deciding on funding requests, and targeting grant proposals so that actions taken by council and administration can most efficiently align with desired outcomes in city development.”

The report also described three sub-objectives: “institute a simple planning process that can be easily revisited and updated yearly; use the data and findings already gathered in past community planning efforts and integrate past efforts into current city plans; and leverage the organizations already in place with community development missions.”

Nestic stressed the part about using data already gathered, pointing to the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce Sustainable Plan, the Salem Downtown Revitalization Technical Advisory Committee or the Salem 20/20 report from several years ago.

When asked after the meeting how this plan is any different than what’s already been done, such as the recent TAC effort, he said “this is specific to the city, to the operation of the city, specific to what council can take action on,” Nestic said.

The plan will become a guide to activities and actions. He estimated the process will take four to six months, with each sub-committee holding a pre-planning meeting, site visits to other cities to see how they do things, working sessions and a post-planning meeting. During that time, they’ll look at where they are, where they want to be and come up with a list of action items in their area with rough cost estimates.

A list of the items developed by all the committees will be published on the city website and a ballot box will be placed at city hall to gather input from the community on prioritization of the action items.

The Planning Committee will review the sub-committee and community input and finalize the report of prioritized action items, with a final report reviewed by the Committee of the Whole and sent to city council for approval.

He suggested the Planning Committee include the Committee of the Whole Chairman, council president, mayor, auditor, service director and sub-committee chairs. Each sub-committee will include a council member as chair, the mayor or service director or both, a representative of the Chamber, a member of TAC, a representative of the Sustainable Opportunity Development Center board, appropriate city managers (chiefs, parks, streets, etc.), and at least one citizen not affiliated with any of the listed groups.

For infrastructure, Nestic said they could look at what streets should be repaved and curbed or what the entryways to the city should look like or whether there’s proper drainage throughout the city. Under community development, he said they could look at the city’s role and what the city can do to improve demographics.

For housing and zoning, he said they could look at what the city can do to promote better care of existing housing stock and whether areas are properly zoned so development occurs in the desired areas, not in areas where problems can occur. For services, he said they can determine how they want safety forces equipped and staffed and what issues exist in the city that are served or impacted by city services.

Nestic said a lot of these suggestions are already in some of the previous reports.

Councilman Rick Drummond asked if they’ll be expected to find a way to get what people who contribute to the plan want, with Nestic saying what they do will be based on what they can afford.

“Not having money is no reason not to plan,” he said.

Councilwoman Cyndy Baronzzi Dickey said she would find it helpful to have a plan in place, especially one that considers what citizens think.

“It seems like we’re always reactive instead of active,” she said.

Drummond said whatever they do, it’s for the city of Salem and he would like to see a lot of people involved. He said he doesn’t want to see a situation where it’s just the council members, with Nestic suggesting people who are interested should contact the council members chairing the committee they’re interested in.

Councilmen Clyde Brown and Jeff Cushman will co-chair the infrastructure sub-committee, Drummund will chair community development, Councilman Brian Whitehill will chair housing and zoning and Councilman K. Bret Apple will chair services. Dickey wasn’t assigned to a specific committee, but said she’ll be helping out where she can. Nestic will serve the planning committee. He said that Nick Bush, who’s on the school board, has offered to be involved as a facilitator.