IT IS TIME TO THINK BIG
Bedford continues to stand still in time while our neighboring cities have experienced exponential growth. It doesn’t matter how we got here. We are here. It is time for us to challenge ourselves to think bigger. Let’s stop being afraid of the future. Let’s begin a serious discussion asking ourselves what kind of a future do we want for Bedford. What do we want Bedford to look like in 10 or 20 years? This conversation encompasses everything. Not just the Boys Ranch or Bedford Commons. We must put everything on the table. And, the more voices in the conversation, the better. What I propose is difficult. These are lofty challenges, but the future of Bedford is at stake.
Let’s make Bedford a Destination. Let’s strive to make Bedford the place where people want to move to, raise their families in, and bring their businesses too. Doing nothing relegates us to the back of the line. I say we set the bar high.
Expectations of Service
At the forefront of thinking big, we should strive to keep our streets safe. We are fortunate to have some of the finest men and women in uniform protecting us every day. We must continue to give our Police, Fire, and Emergency Services departments what they need to carry out this mission. This means accommodating their personnel needs and also ensuring that they are equipped with what they need in the field to protect both them and us.
We should strive to maintain high quality water and sewer services. It is fair to expect the City to provide first class customer service to its residents and businesses. It should be the responsibility of this City to apply and enforce the laws on the books equally and fairly as written. And, it is reasonable to expect this City to keep our streets and parks clean.
We must take all steps necessary to aggressively court new businesses and industries to Bedford. This means being proactive. Waiting for the phone to ring is not an option. This also means utilizing effective code enforcement programs to ensure that any vacant commercial and retail properties in our City fully comply with all safety and appearance standards. No exceptions. We should look for ways to incentivize our existing vacant commercial property owners to invest money into making their facilities more appealing and thereby filling their empty spaces. The more new businesses we bring to town the more pressure will be felt by these “absentee” property owners to raise their standards.
This is also an appropriate time to take a step back and evaluate the types of businesses that we want to attract to our City. I’m not interested in any more convenience stores, dry cleaners, and tattoo parlors. I suggest that we focus on mid to large size employers and unique retail and dining venues. In order to solicit this type of clientele to Bedford, we will need to evaluate our programs to incentivize such businesses. We may need to get creative in order to make Bedford more attractive to come to. If done right, incentive programs can be productive and still bring additional revenue to our City that didn’t exist before. We can give a little to get a lot.
We cannot expect to attract new businesses and new residents to our City without maintaining a certain standard in our infrastructure. It is vitally important that we continue to address water and sewer lines. In a number of instances we have lines in excess of 50 years old. We are currently taking advantage of State programs for low cost funding sources to address the most distressed water and sewer lines in our City.
We must also continue to repair and maintain our residential streets. And lastly we must repair and maintain our major thoroughfares. This particularly means the deterioration of Harwood Road must be addressed soon. All of the above can and should be done with the most economic efficiency possible so as not to adversely affect your tax rate and/or impact the quality of all other City services.
Any exceptional projects (such as Harwood Road) can be accomplished by seeking funding support from other governmental agencies such as NCT COG. Such programs will greatly reduce the amount that the City will have to fund in order to make these projects happen. All other projects should be accomplished within the existing confines of your annual budget.
While our neighbors continue to improve and expand their tax bases, they have also taken steps to renovate and/or build city facilities in order to better meet the needs of their residents. Our facilities do not compare to theirs.
The face of our city, the Old Bedford School, is in need of major repairs in order to make it usable once again. If we are going to forego the expense to return OBS to the proper standard, we must also identify the best use of this facility. We must strive to get a far better return on our investment than we have gotten to date.
The use of the Senior Center has long outgrown its capacity. In as much as we are attempting to address the need to modernize the Boys Ranch footprint through PhaseNext, it is time to address the Senior Center. Our population continues to age. Many of our seniors are choosing to participate in programs in neighboring Senior Centers. Let’s bring them back.
The BRAC is badly in need of modernization. It was built in a different era. Because of this, it wasn’t built to accommodate modern conveniences and the needs of an active community. Modernizing this facility will go a long ways towards attracting residents and families to get involved and participate in activities in our City. This can be addressed with PhaseNext as well.
And finally, the Boys Ranch footprint is dated and in need of reconfiguration in order to maximize its benefit to an active community. In its day, the Boys Ranch was a great functional green space. Today, Bedford residents go to modern designed parks with the latest facilities and equipment in our neighboring cities for their enjoyment. We have a great palette to work from. Let’s take a look a redesigning this space to accommodate greater usage of our sports facilities and to enhance the use of this space for all residents.
If we are serious about attracting the right kind of future residents to our City (high income, active lifestyle families), then we are painfully behind our neighbors in providing them with attractive and useful facilities to promote our Quality of Life.
This concept is a catchall. Refurbishing and/or building new City facilities revitalizes City assets. Continuing to improve streets and remodel major thoroughfares such as Harwood Road revitalizes the entire City. It may be necessary to consider renovating major intersections. As we pressure vacant commercial property owners to invest in their properties and move towards filling those spaces, this will service to revitalize those centers. We must continue to address dilapidated homes within the City. These distressed properties keep everyone else’s home values down.
The overall impact of Revitalizing neighborhoods, vacant properties, and streets will be to attract tomorrow’s families and businesses to town.
Art and Culture
Bedford is blessed with a thriving arts and entertainment community. This includes Central Arts of Bedford gallery shows, the Bedford Cultural Commission store front galleries, the Trinity Arts Guild, ONSTAGE in Bedford, Arts Council Northeast and their Masterworks Concert Series, Bedford Arts Festival, Fourth Fest, and the Bedford Blues and BBQ Festival. Let’s continue to find ways to work with all of the agencies above to further enhance the experience for all of our residents. This may also be the time to have a serious discussion about creating a permanent venue within our Cultural District for concerts and events.
At the heart of the entire conversation above is Strategic Planning. As we all take the steps to identify what we want for our City in the future, it is necessary to sit down and identify a systematic plan for accomplishing these goals. This is Strategic Planning.
It is time to change our ways. The old way of planning and budgeting only on an annual basis is antiquated and short sighted. It is time to begin planning for the long-term needs of the City. This needs to be done constantly.
I am a strong proponent of utilizing Strategic Planning. If we are going to think big, this is the only way to find the path to achieve our goals.
Zero Based Budgeting
As I stated above, the typical way that governmental bodies budget today is antiquated. Any given budget is typically increased or decreased by the equal change in anticipated revenues for the same period. Basically, this means, “If you have it, spend it.” I think it is time to treat the budget similar to how successful businesses do.
Zero Based Budgeting involves reviewing every dollar spent. It focuses on the fact that budgets start from zero. For example, this means no more allocating $25,000 to a particular fund without a justifiable expense that it will specifically be used for. Over the years I have seen where we had extra funds available that were later used for supplemental expenditures that were not identified as part of the original annual budget process. In applying elements of Zero Based Budgeting techniques this insures cost accountability and leads to better cost management.