This is an open letter to Mayor Cooper, the Edmonds City Council, and the citizens of Edmonds from the Citizens Economic Development Commission (CEDC).
The Mayor and City Council constituted this body because Edmonds is facing a serious economic crisis and realized the need for assistance in finding new revenue streams and improving on those that we have.
As budget talks for 2011 have begun, one of our critical pieces for success — the Strategic Plan — has not been fully addressed in the area of funding. Since unanimously passing several resolutions reflecting various needs to accomplish our goals for economic improvement, we want to ensure we have the necessary funding for each to be successful. Unfortunately, it does take some money to make money.
In order to better understand our position and request, there are several questions and answers that we feel will help clarify our need for funding.
What is a Strategic Plan?
A Strategic Plan serves as a community’s roadmap that will take us from where we are today to where we want to go in the coming years. The foundations of strategic planning are the statements we make that describe WHO we are, WHERE we want to go, HOW we will get there, and how we will MEASURE our success over time. It also ensures the most effective use of limited resources by focusing those resources on key priorities.
How does it differ from the Comprehensive Plan? Isn’t the Comp Plan enough?
The Comprehensive Plan is what its name implies: comprehensive. It includes everything the city would like to do if it had unlimited resources. It is useful as opportunities arise; the City has a comprehensive plan that tells decision-makers if this is an opportunity we should take advantage of or leave alone.
A Strategic Plan is not the same as a Comprehensive Plan. A Strategic Plan identifies the City’s priorities for use of its limited funds. Its purpose is to point decision-makers to the most important services and programs that the citizens want or need – most important from the perspective of the entire citizenry. It establishes goals to be reached and who is accountable for reaching those goals. A Strategic Plan guides City leadership and staff on a proactive course to make this City what the citizens want it to be.
Is this going to be just one more study that sits on the shelf?
With a Strategic Plan, City departments know what they are expected to achieve now and in the many years to come. It provides for an ongoing process with accountability for its use and is transparent for all to monitor and to see its progress. The City Council knows what the priorities are, and where dollars should be spent based on citizens input. It is a long-term plan that helps identify where dollars should be spent based on funds available and established priorities as to community needs, so as an active and ongoing document, it cannot be shelved or ignored.
Why can’t the CEDC or the staff develop the Strategic Plan? Why do we need outside help?
The process of developing a Strategic Plan, when done properly, involves a great deal of outreach to all parts of the community to include its city leaders, city staff, community groups and citizens of the community. A centralized source is needed that is totally committed to this process alone and will have the ability to communicate its requirement among all parties. The process will require extensive data collection using a variety of quantitative and qualitative methodologies in a scientific manner, analysis of the data collected, report writing and facilitation of meetings to bring about a consensus on the priorities for the coming years, to name a few.
The process will also requires many different types of professional expertise and a significant amount of time. The skills required are most often found in a professional planning firm that would be contracted for this purpose. The members of the CEDC, the City staff and the City Council members all have commitments of their time that would not allow them the time necessary to fully and thoroughly execute an effort of this magnitude, let alone having the expertise — although it would be expected that all will contribute in some ways to the process
Beyond time and skills, the process must be transparent and objective. We need to rely on those who do not have preconceived ideas, thoughts or personal interests in the outcome.
Do other cities utilize a strategic plan?
Yes, several cities that were contacted within our area — Bothell, Vancouver, Wash., Shoreline and Mill Creek — all have comprehensive plans that are driven by a strategic plan. The general consensus was that without it, it would be difficult to know what the citizens of the community wanted from the comprehensive plan in order of importance.
Why does Edmonds need a Strategic Plan? How would we benefit?
Having an adopted strategic plan is as important to a community’s future as architectural plans are to building a home. The development of a strategic plan allows City leadership to make decisions with the confidence that they are responding to the citizens’ stated desires.
Local economies are always changing and the greater Edmonds area is no exception. Its financial stability has been gradually deteriorating for the past several years, and current projections show that annual revenues will fall below expenses within the next couple of years.
Without change and adaptability, a community can become stagnant or decline which affects a City’s ability to fund operations, services and capital projects. We do not want to miss future opportunities. Successful communities today acknowledge their past and allow a vision for the future to guide them through the changes needed to prosper; Edmonds is no different and needs a roadmap for addressing future changes allowing a proactive approach (based on established consensus) that enables us to prosper and seize opportunities through a strategic plan.
A strategic plan is a crucial tool for City decision makers. It can help or assist with the decision making process by establishing a framework for setting priorities and educating leadership about the citizens’ priorities for public and private funding. A strategic plan will help the Mayor and City Council to prioritize matters that are most important to the citizens in order of need. It will better utilize all resources available more effectively, especially when all governments and business are faced with the challenge of doing more with less.
Why should the City Council appropriate funds for a Strategic Plan when the mayor did not include it in his proposed budget?
The Mayor proposed a balanced budget that included a table of decision packets submitted by the various City departments for City Council consideration. Some decision packets require City Council approval and funding in order to move forward. As requested by the CEDC, Exhibit 6 of the preliminary budget includes a one time request for funding to support a Strategic Planning process and it is our understanding the Mayor considers it a high priority to identify funding for this effort. Funding this request would allow the implementation of City of Edmonds Resolution 1224, Item 2, which calls for developing a strategic plan and committing to reviewing and updating the plan each year.
Why does a Strategic Plan cost $100,000? What do we get for that?
Based on communications with four firms with expertise in conducting this type of study and process, the estimated cost of undertaking a strategic planning process and creation of a strategic plan ranges fro $60,000 to $200,000. Typically, the more complex a study, the higher the price. A higher cost study usually allows consultants to conduct a more thorough analysis and further refine assumptions, thus improving the degree of confidence in the information gathered.
Based on general expectations and scope of work discussed by the Edmonds Economic Development Commission (EDC), the EDC initially discussed recommending that the City Council allocate a budget range of between $85,000 and not to exceed the amount of $175,000 for this effort, which represents +/- 35% of the midpoint of $130,000. Based on the City’s budgetary constraints for year 2011 and beyond, the Economic Development Commission is requesting the City Council allocate an amount of $100,000 as part of the 2011 budget process as this amount is more affordable and could still fund a functional, fundamentally sound and respectable strategic planning effort. A contract with the chosen consultant would be submitted to the City Council for their review and potential action.
For this one-time fee for the development of this plan, along with the assistance of staff and the CEDC, we will be getting a professionally conducted Strategic Plan that will be community driven. Among those items are the following:
– Quantitative skills – to design, carry out, analyze, and interpret survey data that give us valid and reliable results.
– Qualitative skills – to gather information using such methodologies as key informant interviews (with City leaders, City staff, members of service organizations, etc.), other in-depth interviews, and focus groups.
– Meeting facilitation skills, including meetings with the public and meetings with City leaders to finalize a Strategic Plan.
– The results: a Strategic Plan that represents input from the entire community, serves as a roadmap for where the City will go in the future, assigns responsibility for achieving the different parts of the plan, contains measurable goals to be achieved and a plan for accountability, and is supported by the public.
As you have read and heard from us, this is an important piece essential to the success of Economic Development. To be able to implement and follow through on plans in a logical, organized, systematic, concise and transparent manner only benefits us all. Determining what is most important to the citizens as a whole- both economically and physically- will begin to change our city for the good. Our hope is for our city to prosper and grow, to be self sufficient with its needs, yet able to sustain a quality of life that the citizens of Edmonds can be proud of.
We look forward to answering any question and we trust that this letter and the enclosed material will receive the attention it deserves for our city’s future.
Citizens Economic Development Committee