Danedri Thompson
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A handful of citizens broke into small groups to brainstorm potential budget priorities during a Jan. 22 forum on the city of Gardner’s 2016 budget.
Derrick Neilsen, vice president of organizational development at Allen-Gibbs-Houlik (AGH), said the goal of the session was to determine where the city could make investments to move the needle to improve Gardner.
He gave the groups four items city council members previously determined were a priority for the community, Neilsen asked that citizens create lists that would make progress in promoting economic development, managing infrastructure and assets, proper fiscal stewardship, and improving quality of life.
Each group was given a large white paper and a marker and asked to make suggestions to meet each priority.
For example, to promote economic development, citizens made a lengthy list of items including developing business options to tap into the intermodal; staking a claim for possible annexations along Waverly Road; encouraging commercial development on the north side of Interstate-35, and getting rid of West Side Ballpark.
For infrastructure maintenance, the list of ideas included upgrading old sewers, maintaining streets consistently, ugrading street lights to LED, getting Google fiber, building a police station with limited or no holding cells and improving the capital improvement plan, or CIP, process.
Residents requested that the city use fewer consultants and repurpose or train city staff to do some of the things the city has been hiring consultants to do. Under fiscal stewardship, citizens also suggested that the city apply for more grants, give more lead time for fiscal related council decisions, and create venues other than council meetings for discussions between council members and the citizens.
To improve Gardner’s quality of life, citizens listed things like building a full-service community center, planning more special events, adding more than two new police cars each years, improving park infrastructure including the addition of a dog park and more connecting trails and not spending a lot of money to make downtown Gardner more of a multi-purpose or multi-use location.
After drafting extensive brainstormed lists, Neilsen gave each attendee several sticker dots. He urged residents to place their dots on the items they viewed as most important.
“There’s a long laundry list of ideas,” Neilsen explained. “(The dots) will give some idea of the strength of feeling for each priority.”
Citizens placed dots as they were leaving city hall and did not have time to discuss which items were deemed of higher priority.