We Can, We Will…with a Unified Council

$10,250: the amount the FD requested for one of their wants in 2016: the Fire Safety House.  We exceeded this goal with a #OneSimpsonville effort that included the city, businesses, citizens, and especially Modern Woodmen of America. City Tax $$ spent: $0.00.

$13,466.36: amount raised via the Raise the Roof Fundraiser for a shelter at the Tater Shed Amphitheater.  Also a #OneSimpsonville effort by citizens, businesses, and the city. City tax $$: $0.00.

$10,000: proposed donation from private donor for additional cost of the shelter at the Tater Shed Amphiteater. City tax dollars that will be used for this project: $0.00.

$280,000: Grant funding earned by the City of Simpsonville towards the Swamp Rabbit Trail (thanks, Steve Moore!).  Granted based on a vision, a plan, hard work, and the #OneSimpsonville spirit.  City tax dollars proposed for use in first stretch of SRT: $0.00.

$20,000: Goal for Sensory Playground Equipment. Goal exceeded. City tax contribution: $0.00.

That’s just what I remember off the top of my head. It leaves a lot out. It totals OVER $593,716. For the record, that’s a 1/4 of the proposed initial cost of the Arts Center that some candidates keep claiming we will have to raid the city coffers to fund.And most of that was done in just around a year.

We accomplished all that because we had vision–a Council majority committed to that vision and finding ways to make it happen. And because YOU, your citizens, want these types of projects to be a priority to improve our quality of life here in Simpsonville.  I will work to make sure we continue in this direction. Some candidates have indicated they will too.  Others have said NO. They claim it can’t be done. It’s up to YOU to decide on November 7th who you want working for YOU. Those who say WE CAN. And work to ensure WE WILL. Or those who say WE CAN’T.  Choose wisely.

 

Arts Center Update 11.23.2016

Planning and Zoning Manager, Mr. Jason Knudsen has provided Council with the most recent update on the Arts Center Feasibility Study.

The organizational analysis portion of the feasibility study is now complete.  Read more about the components of the study here.

The team is still working on the building analysis.  Both the City Fire Marshal and Building Inspector have inspected the school building. And the team arranged for a certified inspector to do an initial assessment for mold, asbestos, and lead–and they got him to do it for FREE.  They’ve really done some amazing work over the past few months–at no cost to the city. Next up: cost analysis.

Next meeting is Monday, November 28th at 6:30 PM, City Hall.

Read previous reports about the feasibility study here.

Here’s the report, which will (per decision of the Council) also be posted to the city’s website.

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Q&A: Arts Center…and then some, part 2

A follow-up response on Facebook to this original post prompted me to explain a little further on the funding for an Arts Center.  I am sharing here, so more people have the opportunity to have the information:

I do want to address an issue about funding that is brought up by this response: Again, the financial analysis has yet to be completed. Which means we don’t know how much any of it might cost—or where the funding might come from. Part of the financial analysis involves identifying possible funding sources. To be clear, I don’t think a single member of our Council has any intention of diverting needed funds from Public Works, PD, FD, or Parks & Recreation to pay for an Arts Center. That is to say, we aren’t going to NOT hire a needed officer in order to fund the Arts Center. That doesn’t make sense and isn’t very responsible.

Further, what if it turns out that the Arts Center can be accomplished with little to no funding from the City? What if the study shows the Arts Center will fund itself, be self-sustaining? What if, even, the study discovers a return on investment of $2 for every $1? The thing is we don’t know. Because the study has not been completed. You’ve said here “Do your free study, and in a couple years IF everything else is taken care then do your Arts Center if you must.” It is entirely possible the study team comes to us and says, “Yes, it’s feasible, but we need $5 million to make it happen right now.” And in that case, I don’t think anyone on this Council is prepared to budget $5 million to start an Arts Center next year. Again, that just doesn’t make sense (as you’ve noted, we have a number of critical needs to fund). But what probably makes sense is developing a long-term plan as suggested by your comment. And including multiple funding sources to accomplish that plan. There is funding available for arts (grants, for example) that cannot be used for personnel or for vehicles. Using such funding does no harm to other projects in the city that need dollars from our general fund. It’s easy for people to say, “Well, you can’t possibly get the money for that from outside sources.” But people said that about the $10,000 for the fire safety house, too, and once we had a plan, we did that—completely from donations and sponsorships from individuals and businesses in the community. This happened because it was something that was important to people in our community. Another good example would be the Sensory Playground project by Leadership Simpsonville. They’ll build that playground with nothing more from the City than our blessing. All the funding is coming from outside sources–around $20,000. The same thing could be possible for an Arts Center. After all, as I explained in my earlier response, this is what people in the community said they wanted.

Another point I’d like to make regards this statement about which you are absolutely correct: “But why not be unique!” During the market analysis, the team discussed finding Simpsonville’s nich–in detail and at length. It’s part of why they looked at all the other Arts Centers—to determine what else is in the area, to decide what’s not needed and what it is. The recommendation they will make will be for an Arts Center for Simpsonville—it will, in fact, be unique to our city and its people.

For other posts on the arts, click here.

Q&A: Arts Center…and then some

Recently, I posted the latest update on the Feasibility Study for the Arts Center. On Facebook, I received an inquiry about it. I am posting that with my response:

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In addition, I would like to elaborate a bit:

Certainly, we want to be responsive to citizens. In fact, greater citizen participation is one of my goals for the city. And really, that’s what the feasibility study is about too: first we held an event at the school building and invited the public. Mr. Knudsen and the Planning Commission led citizens through a SWOT analysis. Early this year, Mr. Knudsen shared the results from that analysis. Overwhelmingly, the community expressed interest in a cultural/arts center. From there, we made the decision to do a feasibility study—again by seeking citizen participation.   As you know, the study team is comprised of volunteers with expertise in a number of areas relevant to determining if and how an arts center at the school might be feasible. I believe in data-driven and evidence-based decision-making for long-term planning. The feasibility study puts that belief into action.

Then, I received a follow-up reply that brought up a few different issues, and I’d like to address each. There’s not quite enough room on Facebook, though, so I’ve responded here on the #Jenn4Ward3 blog. Here is the follow-up reply I received followed by my response:

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“What about bringing the Public Works Department up to par with equipment?”

Once we became aware of just how bad the situation in Public Works was, solving the problems that stemmed from years of short-term “band-aid” solutions and poor (or lack of planning) became a top priority. In fact, it was the most-discussed item during this year’s budget workshop meetings—and we spent a great deal of time considering the options brought to us by city staff, the experts charged with researching and recommending options in their respective departments. There was no easy solution. We chose (unanimously) the best solution for meeting the City’s needs. If equipment alone would solve the problem, we could have made budget decisions to “bring public works up to par with equipment” “in house” as opposed to privatizing services; unfortunately, as I have explained previously (here) , it’s not just about money for equipment—and it’s not just about yard waste, nor can it be solved simply by adding some employees. The problem we faced was much bigger and more complex than that.

What about some kind of accreditation for the Police Department?

It is my understanding that the PD is seeking to be re-accredited by the state after having allowed that accreditation to lapse earlier this year.

What about the hiring situation for the PD?

We recently hired two new PD employees: 1 in Dispatch and 1 for Patrol. We also promoted two employees at the PD: one from Patrol to Sergeant and 1 from Dispatch to Patrol. The PD’s number one focus for personnel right now is strengthening road patrol. This is a critical need—one Interim Chief Moore is working diligently on (we are currently in the hiring process on several open positions). And Council plans to help him from our end to achieve that goal. That’s why we recently took up the issue in our meetings. It is important to note, however, that solving this problem will take time for a number of reasons:

  1. It’s not a problem that happened over night, so it’s not one that will resolve over night. Since 2012, we’ve had a turnover rate that is about twice the national average. Pinpointing why is important—but it’s also not easy. And realistically, there isn’t usually only one reason why. And that means any solution must be multi-faceted. We have to be sure that whatever we do, we solve the real problem(s) and not just the consequences (i.e. understaffing).
  2. This isn’t just a Simpsonville problem. Police Departments across our region, our state, and this entire country are facing issues with retention and recruitment. Some are understaffed much more than we currently are. That doesn’t make it ok for us—which is why City leadership must make finding and supporting solutions a priority in 2017. We have, as noted above, recently committed to that.
  3. It is a problem that will require some amount of funding. That means we need to be prepared to discuss money at the beginning of next year. And that’s I moved that “Council charge the City Administrator with researching options for effective police recruitment and retention strategies/programs and make recommendations to Council by the first budget meeting of 2017.” The Committee of the Whole voted 6-1 (with Mr. Graham dissenting) to move forward with this. At the Business meeting, we voted 6-0 (Mr. Graham absent) to get moving on it. As I’ve said multiple times, I am a huge advocate for engaging in long-term planning and data-driven, evidence-based decision-making. I feel very strongly that to plan long-term, we must have all of the relevant facts, evidence, and expert feedback possible. Because Mr. Dyrhaug will begin working on compiling that now, we’ll be able to make a well-informed, evidence-based decision when we have our budget workshops next year.

I will conclude by saying that I believe the role of city council is to foster quality of life for all citizens by ensuring the city:

  1. Provides first-rate services (fire, parks & recreation, police, and public works);
  2. Is fiscally responsible (with a keen awareness of how decisions impact taxpayers);
  3. Promotes economic opportunity;
  4. Supports neighborhood vitality; and
  5. Commits to community and cultural programs and services.

I do not think that as a city we can focus only on one area to the exclusion of any other—nor do I think having more than one project going at a time means that any other project is somehow automatically less important. The feasibility study for an Arts Center doesn’t mean that PD Recruitment & Retention is somehow less important. Just as the dire situation in Public Works does not make funding the PD any less important. You asked about priorities, and I’m glad because priorities are important. But we cannot even begin to prioritize until we have the information necessary to make well-informed decisions.

As for the Arts Center, we’ll receive the final report and recommendation early next year—when all the facts, including the financial analysis, are in. And then, we’ll have decisions to make. We’ll also receive the report and recommendation on Police Recruitment and Retention, and we’ll have decisions to make there, too. We’ll receive a lot of other information, and we’ll have a lot of decisions to make; a lot of ranking of priorities will happen. My pledge—as always—is to make my votes after doing my homework and with the best interest of Simpsonville in mind.

6 Month Check-in

It’s been (a little over) 6 months, so it seems like a good time for a recap.

When I was campaigning, I told you that I wanted Simpsonville to focus on three areas: economic development, community & culture, and One Simpsonville, United.

Let’s look at those more closely:

Economic Development:

As I’ve said before, in a city like Simpsonville, community development IS economic development, and as I said at the June Committee of the Whole Meeting, successful municipal community and economic development begins with elected officials making an organizational commitment to community and economic development. At that time, I made a motion to charge our City Administrator with creating a strategic plan for community and economic development in Simpsonville. The Committee moved that motion to the July 12th business meeting for consideration of Council, and Council approved us moving forward with such a plan. This is great news in light of the recently announced MASC economic development grants.

In support of community and economic development, several business and community leaders presented to Mayor Curtis and the City of Simpsonville a check for $1000.00 to illustrate their commitment to partnering with the City in a One Simpsonville effort to make economic development a priority. The City of Simpsonville will seek to grow the account by pursuing grants and in future budgeting efforts.

Community & Culture:

Museum Signs: In April, I was contacted by the Simpsonville Museum of Revolutionary War History (which is run completely by volunteers). They wanted to know if the city could help them purchase some signage to help let the public know their location and hours. I told them that I didn’t think the city could afford to do that given the great number of critical needs we were currently reviewing in our budget workshops. However, I thought this would be a great opportunity to bring together some citizens, businesses, and our government in a One Simpsonville effort to help increase access to this cultural service through signage. So I reached out to Jason Knudsen, our City Planner, to inquire about what kinds of signs would work for the Museum’s purpose. Then, I reached out to our community to ask for their help. Within just two days, we had collected enough money to purchase appropriate signage. Today, if you drive past the historic Simpsonville Elementary School building, you can see these portable sidewalk signs that indicate the location and operating hours of the museum.

Arts Center Feasibility Study: As of July 8th, the Arts Center Feasibility study is officially underway! Read the most recent progress update here. We first started talking about this back in March. Since then, the motion passed from Committee of the Whole to full Council, where it was approved. Mr. Dyrhaug and Mr. Knudsen have since pulled together the appropriate people to help complete the study, so we can determine once and for all whether or not it’s feasible to house an Arts Center in the historic Simpsonville Elementary School. Further, the group of people working together on that feasibility study include business owners, citizens, city staff, and non-profit representatives—and that’s what One Simpsonville is all about.

 Symphony (free!): We brought the Greenville Symphony Orchestra back to Simpsonville for the Independence Day Celebration at Heritage Park. And we were able to do it with free parking and free admission, increasing access to community and cultural programs and services. We were able to offer it free by embracing the One Simpsonville spirit of collaboration and partnership. The event was made possible by partnering with the following:

  • Greenville County,
  • Greenville Health Systems,
  • Greenville Technical College,
  • Lockheed Martin, and
  • Laurens Electric Cooperative.

 

One Simpsonville, United:

In addition to all the One Simpsonville examples above, we have a few more efforts that come to mind. What these efforts share is a concerted effort to invite citizens, businesses, and non-profits to participate in the processes and projects of the City. They also share a willingness to be open and responsive to the ideas, suggestions, and desire to help improve the community presented by members of our community.

Fire Safety House/Modern Woodmen of America Partnership: This is such a great example of the true One Simpsonville spirit. In this venture, we have truly united our city—its citizens, its businesses, and its government—working together for continuous improvement. Read more about how here.

 Habitat for Humanity of Greenville County: While the City was not an official partner in the recently completed build on Boyd Ave, several city leaders attended the wall-raising and the dedication ceremony and met with Habitat leaders to discuss how to create an effective, mutually beneficial relationship as we move forward. This is important because the Boyd Ave project did include partnerships with many private citizen volunteers, local businesses, and our local faith community. We need to continue to grow such relationships.

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We’ve strengthened our relationship with our Chamber of Commerce. Chamber leaders will be intimately involved in the formulation of the strategic plan for economic development. Recently, the Chamber’s Leadership Simpsonville group presented to us their planned projects for this year, which include the construction of an ADA-approved Sensory Playground and swings and signage for downtown. These projects will be a huge asset to our community. Council voted unanimously to support the projects. You can help donate to the Sensory Playground here. In another recent partnership, the Chamber and the City of Simpsonville worked together to collect, assemble, and distribute appreciation packages to the employees of the Simpsonville Police Department.

We did all of this while also passing a budget with no tax increase. And we worked with Public Works on a plan to privatize some of our sanitation services to save money and increase the quality of service to our citizens.

It’s been a busy year so far, and I’m not saying it’s been perfect, but I am saying this: we’re making progress. We’re moving in the right direction. And we’re going to continue on this path because that’s what’s best for Simpsonville.