For the past seven months, Durham has been developing a strategic plan to better coordinate city departments and services and identify future focus areas for the city’s work.
Durham’s SWOC process -- standing for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and challenges -- began in November, utilizing paper and online surveys of citizens, city employees, and key stakeholders such as City Council, department directors, and city commission members. This process resulted in a report presented to City Council in February (view the SWOC report in PDF format here). After inventorying existing conditions, strategic planning processes were then used to define the mission of the organization and enumerate goals and objectives and define initiatives for achieving the mission.
Although still in draft stages, Durham’s Strategic Plan gives insights into funding and work priorities that will receive special emphasis over the next decade.
Durham’s draft plan has adopted the statement: “To provide quality services to make Durham a great place to live, work and play”. Additionally, the city has adopted several core values (focused in areas such as integrity, customer service, fairness, and others). In order to achieve its mission, Durham has set five goals, each with their own set of initiatives to achieve these goals.
A close reading of the draft plan affirms that many of the city's long-standing programs will continue; however, several new initiatives are hinted at by the report.
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In Durham's case, three of the city's five goals are continuations of long-standing projects, and detail on-going initiatives that aim to make Durham a better place to live and work.
The remaining two detail areas that have gotten less attention in recent years -- including with a focus on being a "well-managed city," something that City Hall observers are sure to see as an imprimatur of city manager Tom Bonfield's impact on Durham's internal operations.
Among the keys listed to status as a well-managed city: a reshuffling of the Capital Improvements Projects (CIP) list, henceforth limited to projects that can be fully funded within a six-year period, paired with an identification of CIP needs (but not full-fledged projects) that remain unfunded.
This is in stark contrast to the historical, hysterical CIP, which typically has many tantalizing but unfunded items.
That unfunded CIP priority list today looks like a wishlist that's hard to manage -- something that seemed to ding Durham on the recent (nearly-but-not-quite-perfect) AA+ rating for City limited obligation bonds, with rating agency Fitch noting in its one-section rating driver section that "growing capital needs could pressure available resources as the city finances its sizable capital improvement plan."
Improvements to contract management, record keeping, and other city processes are also cited as critical to reach this goal. Other "well-managed city" initiatives include the creation of a “leadership pipeline” that aims to develop the next generation of departmental leadership from the city’s junior ranks.
Infrastructure improvement -- in the form of a plan section called "Well-Managed Infrastructure" -- also stands out as a key goal in the city's strategic plan, and certainly a necessary one given the years of 'deferred maintenance' caused by our statutorily-reduced tax base.
Numerous initiatives are listed under this goal, but one which stands out is investment in targeted gateways, an idea that received nominal attention recently in Durham's "147 Plan", but has not seen any funding allocated. Such an initiative would focus on aesthetic and landscaping improvements at key points of entry and exit in the city, providing a more welcoming sight for out-of-towners reaching Durham for a Bulls game or DPAC event.
Also on tap is the implementation of stormwater, wastewater, and drinking water improvements due to pending regulations for Falls Lake.
Rounding out new infrastructure initiatives is a clear reference to a re-alignment of infrastructure priorities. Mentioned specifically in the plan are "enhance[d] infrastructure development standards" and a focus on "priorities, standards, and funding."
One hopeful note for City drivers: the first trackable 'outcome measure' for the City to track compliance with its success in this area? The percentage of city lane miles rated in good or better condition, a metric followed closely by the percentage of assets rated in good or better condition.
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Overall, the city’s strategic planning process is part of a greater initiative to transition the city toward ‘results-based accountability’, a system in which goals are explicitly stated and progress is tracked by readily quantifiable measures.
Although many of the goals and initiatives listed in the draft Strategic Plan are simple continuations of projects started by the city in the past, you can expect to see a tighter focus on measuring progress toward city goals in the plan. Such accountability measures are clearly needed, given our limited tax base (due to both non-profit property owners and an inability to annex RTP despite a need to maintain the infrastructure surrounding it).
What remains to be seen is whether implementation of the strategic plan, specifically in the infrastructure and city management areas, will help compensate for the years of deferred maintenance that led to a crumbling infrastructure and difficulties attracting new businesses, workers, and residents through the 90's and early 00's.
Outside of the well-managed city and well-managed infrastructure goals, the plan's first goal is centered on economic development, with initiatives including a continuation of business incentives and targeted recruitment of specific employment sectors.
Neighborhood revitalization, a second goal, will also continue to receive focus from the city in the form of code enforcement, regional transit, and the coordination of neighborhood development plans.
One new shift in the community development sphere (although 10+ years in the making through partnerships such as Southwest Central Durham Quality of Life and other Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership programs) is the open reliance by the city upon "universities and hospitals" as partners for affordable housing development.
The strategic plan's third goal sees the city continuing efforts to improve safety and security in Durham through a continuation of community policing programs and a pledge to keep police and fire ranks fully staffed.