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City actively looking to improve, meet challenges

After reading the Pioneer's editorial "City short on facing challenges," it was obvious that whoever wrote the editorial wasn't at the meeting I attended.

The City Council had a productive session with Jim Brimeyer, of Skyehill Governance Consulting. Brimeyer reviewed the governance model, discussed his approach to the planning model, conducted a short SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis, helped the council establish priorities, and reviewed the implementation process for two of those priorities.

The Pioneer was incorrect in stating that only two goals were established. In fact, the council agreed on five "first tier" priorities:

- Redevelopment of our south shore project.

- Prepare for additional loss of Local Government Aid.

- Consider more aggressive annexation strategies.

- Complete and implement strategies from the Quality Neighborhood Initiative Study, including enhancement of our housing stock.

- Promotion and marketing of the Bemidji Regional Event Center.

The council also acknowledged that secondary tier issues would not be ignored and many are already in process or substantially completed. Because we only had time to work through two implementation processes doesn't infer that we only have two priorities.

The Pioneer also suggested that "reorganizing city government and services" should be a "chief priority." After spending the last three years doing just that, you can only imagine our frustration. During that time we have reduced our work force by over 10 percent, reorganized our public works and wastewater treatment departments, privatized part of our refuse services, anticipated reductions by cutting $400,000 from our budget before LGA reductions were announced, and worked with our unions to eliminate some overtime provisions and agree to no increases in wages or benefits for 2010.

The Pioneer has been present at meetings when all of these budget strategies have been discussed. As staff, we are constantly finding new ways to reduce expenditures while maintaining as many services as we can. However, the reality is that we will soon be prioritizing our services as we no longer have the capacity to reduce costs without a reduction in services.

Although our council doesn't always agree on everything we do, we have still managed to efficiently and effectively meet the needs of our community. Like making sausage, you don't have to like the process in order to enjoy the outcome. The reality is our City Council and staff have been, and continue to be, up to the task of facing any challenge we are faced with.

John Chattin

City Manager