My Conversations on the doorsteps of Cedar Falls:
I am knocking on doors and collecting joys and concerns. One thing is certain, citizens love Cedar Falls. Our services are generally great and our amenities are unrivaled. I am keen to learn not only what we love, but what we can improve. The following 'mirco-blogs' represent a small sample of the rich discussions. Give me call or stop by my house to talk more!
In 2014, the city reorganized government from top to bottom to enhance service capabilities and make the best use of taxpayer resources. Under the Public Safety model, police and fire services are operationally aligned in tactical response, leadership, strategic planning and fiscal management. It incorporates cross-training, technology and strategy to enhance capabilities. Understandably, it is full of emotional controversy especially because it impacts two collective bargaining groups. But it stands to reason, if response times improve and we can put more hoses and trained personnel on the scene, the better the outcome. Nevertheless, we need to carefully evaluate performance metrics to ensure we are exceeding response capability and utilizing resources in the best manner possible. The PSO has merit because it allows the city to put more feet on the street (fight crime and support major incidents). But it seems prudent to have a base level of FTE firefighters at the station (a firefighter cost less than a PSO, so this makes economic sense). PSOs would be used for back-fill and in-field incident response. I have discussed the Public Safety program with former firefighters, base level staffing agreement would be 20-22 FTEs to support our current stations and apparatuses (PSOs would provide back fill for absences). However, I don't think we get there until the Fire Union supports the program. They are integral in its success - FTE firefighters should be the trainers and mentors for fire/rescue incident response capability. My previously shared thoughts: Public Safety Modernization.
Development & Parking
Cedar Falls is a desirable town, we are attracting major developer interest and finishing big projects. Good development serves our residential, commercial and industrial needs. But the salient concern is parking, no doubt a symptom of our success. We need parking strategies that complement our development strategies. We need to explore options to maximize on-street parking, manage turnover and discourage long-term parking. We are making headway. The new parking ordinance begins to address the parking issue. Nearly 100 spots will be added on-street and via private lot sharing. We have come a long way since my previously shared thoughts on the Downtown and parking. Further, new, form-based zoning promises to balance community and developer interests. The zoning update is the most important code administration matter in decades.
On the rental front, our city has produced a lot of new code with mixed results to combat rental proliferation within single family housing. Code is a hammer, but I feel we can do more by good planning and design including allowing more density around the key demand points of our city (i.e. UNI). With UNI enrollment decreasing, the profit incentive for single-family home conversion will surely diminish and offer new opportunities for affordable conversions back to single family. My previously shared thoughts on Rental Demand Planning.
In 2014, at the direction of council (which I was a part), we initiated a budget task force to identify policy and operating strategies to reduce expenses. Today, we are saving nearly $1.4M annually, we are delivering greater service for less cost. Low taxes are a competitive advantage (one of many) in attracting businesses and jobs. Business and jobs have a multiplier effect on housing and related economic activity. Based on cities over 10,000 residents, Cedar Falls ranks 11th out of 38 in its total tax levy, $12.02. I am committed in the pursuit of super efficient operations, fiscally sound policies and more public-private partnerships to deliver the best services for the lowest total cost. Public Safety, golf course privatization, contracted services, intra-inter city cooperation, operational improvement (single-sided collection, compost center) are all examples of successful cost-savings. I will evaluate every opportunity to deliver greater value - better services, lower cost. I am committed to operational excellence.
Infrastructure & Amenities
In the last 10 years, we have built out our road, sewer and protective levy infrastructure. University Avenue is more vibrant, safe and efficient. We also made unprecedented investments in our sanitary and storm water infrastructure. We raised our levy to the 500 year protection level. But we have many more critical investments to consider: Main Street (6th-University), industrial park and possibly a regional waste-water treatment plant. I am proud of what we’ve accomplished in the last 10 years, and we need a keen investment eye to support our continued growth and development.
We must always strive to enhance the citizen experience through differentiated amenities. Parks, trails, arts and culture programming and recreation programs strive to make Cedar Falls truly unique for everyone that calls this home. To build out our amenities, I will continue to promote public-private design and financing partnerships in every project from park shelters to the potential river enhancement. Pickle ball courts, Clay Street Park, Beau’s Park are all examples of the power of partnership. I am committed the thoughtful, feasible, impact-minded investments.
Cedar Falls has a robust economic climate, but we are poised for so much more. Our economic eco-system is unrivaled with our education system, infrastructure (data and transportation), quality of life, diverse enterprises and supporting government. To grow our economic base beyond incremental ‘brick and mortar’ wins, we need to set our efforts on organic, new business based on innovation, productivity and Midwestern ingenuity. We need balanced incentives that not only support legacy businesses, but also the future. I will strive to create policies, partnerships and investments to create a business environment that fosters job creation, innovation and wealth creation. I have blogged about this a lot, see Cedar Falls Business First.
Since day one, I have been a proponent of open, transparent, accessible and representative government. We should hold elected officials and staff to the highest standards for integrity and professionalism. In my original terms, we elevated transparency to new heights by broadcasting more city meetings (committees and school board included), digitized meeting information and improved processes across the board. We held important hearings on civil liberties, decriminalization, mayoral duties and goals and budgets. All this is done to preserve the integrity of local government so it works for you. I am totally committed to demystifying local government and vow to continue my excessive efforts to communicate the happenings and opportunities in our city through my regular Blog.