Local government — Utilizing a recent citizen survey, City Council narrows down points of concern in the citizenry

The Newberg City Council didn’t set its goals as planned during the Sept. 23 meeting, but after reviewing a recent citizen survey the councilors say they have a good idea of the body’s focus in the future.

“The survey was something we put out to engage citizens’ perception of how we are doing and gauge what they think we should prioritize,” said Councilor Ryan Howard. “We’ve come up with about seven goals and they’re broad.”

These include maintaining public safety service levels, maintaining and modernizing transportation and utility infrastructure, as well as environmental goals, among others.

“I really want my focus to be on customer service, changing the way the city employees (interact with people). I’m not saying they are bad in anyway at all, but sometimes because we are the sole provider of a service, we don’t think about how we say things,” said Councilor Denise Bacon. “(I want to) cut down the red tape and be more customer friendly.”

Bacon said one of her previous goals was to look at the environmental impact of the decisions the city makes, from which light bulbs to buy to hiring cleaners.

“It’s now common practice, so goal done,” she said.

Howard said as a cyclist, one of his main goals involves roads and transportation.

“Taking care of the back log of street maintenance and upkeep, I’m a proponent of public transit, so making sure all modes of transportation are included when making investments in our infrastructure,” he said. “We’ve been behind for a number of years maintaining it and investing in it.”

Councilor Lesley Woodruff shares this goal.

“Something that got me started in government to begin with is traffic safety and related issues, the condition of roads and access to all different modes of transportation,” Woodruff said. “It’s a general council goal and certainly my own personal goal. Something else I’m interested in and eager to move the city forward in, is increasing city sustainability and decreasing the carbon footprint.”

But after reviewing the citizen survey, the councilors said there were many resources people wanted to increase, such as public safety resources, but respondents also indicated they didn’t want to increase taxes or cut funding in other areas — one of which needs to occur to achieve those goals.

“People think we’re doing a good job or an adequate job but aren’t fully informed about the concerns that the council and the city has about going forward in the future,” Howard said. “Perhaps they would not be so happy with the city’s functioning if they were presented with the options of paying higher taxes or reducing the level of service.”

Howard and Bacon both agreed this is a common problem. Residents want to see more public programs, but don’t want to pay for them.

“We just can’t keep going on the way that we are because we are falling behind in a lot of areas,” Howard said. “This is when we need to decide if we need to cut areas we’ve become accustomed to, but people don’t necessarily want that. The alternative is raising revenue. People always say we’ll find efficiencies in those things but that’s what we’ve been doing for the past five years. We’re down to bare bones now.”

Bacon and Howard expressed frustration toward this mentality.

Bacon said it’s fairly typical that people don’t want to pay more for what they already have, but Howard also said he is concerned with participation in the decision making process when cuts do have to be made.

“Say an issue comes up and we’re forced to make a difficult decision cutting service or don’t have a whole lot of public participation until we need to make the decision,” Howard said. “It’s really disappointing there’s not more input throughout the process.”

He said it’s a little frustrating because if residents were more participatory from the beginning, they would have a better understanding of what they are asking the city council to do.

“And we would have had more information to base our decision on in the beginning,” he said.

Despite his frustrations, he said based on the survey Newberg citizens seem to be happy here. But that might change when it becomes decision time.

The continued goal setting meeting has not yet been scheduled, but Bacon said it should happen sometime in November.

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