This week The Salem City Council unanimously approved the city’s first Strategic Plan, a road-map into Salem’s future that has been in the works for over a year. This is the first time the City of Salem has addressed the community’s needs in an over-all Strategic Plan that will serve as a blueprint for Salem policy decisions.
Michael Slater, a member of the community who has been following this year-long process said, “This is the Council’s first strategic plan that involves such lengthy public participation. It identifies a set of seven goals that are well aligned to the challenges the city faces and for each one identifies areas where more research is needed, where more public input is needed, and where the city is ready to act now.”
The Strategic Plan’s goal priorities are Vision for Growth and Development, Affordable Housing, Social Services and Homelessness, Economic Development and Downtown, Critical Infrastructure, Sustainable Service Delivery, and Public Transportation and Environmental Action.
Over the past year city planners say the Strategic Plan has had community input from hundreds of residents, businesspeople, elected officials, volunteers, City staff, and nonprofit organizations through three open houses, numerous telephone surveys, and informal feedback questionnaires, along with work groups, full-Council work sessions, and formal Council meetings.
About the level of community participation in creating the Strategic Plan, City Councilor, Steve McCoid, from Ward 4 said, “I think this is going to be a great tool if it’s used correctly. And what I think is very important is that it goes from having us trying to figure out, guess, what citizens want, to asking what their view and vision of the city is and incorporate that in a plan for the future that they are going to buy into because a lot of their ideas are in this document.”
Mark Wigg, who sat as a guest councilor in Monday’s council meeting is also happy with the level of community participaton, but would like to see an expansion of options in the goals for housing in Salem. “The only thing that I would like to encourage is that right now the housing focuses on apartments, multi-family and single family, and I think before you get to multi-family you might include lower-cost housing which might be RV parks, it might even be camp grounds. There is no disccusion of housing below the apartment level, but there are people out there either camping or parking on the streets in rv’s, so to add that to the discussion would be helpful.”
Slater says that while he is happy to see that the plan includes housing, with the first policy, a rental assistance program for chronically homeless already adopted, and the city committing to developing a sobering center, he still has concerns that not everyone has been included in the discussion.
“I think we did miss the mark a little bit by not having a participation strategy that fully included communities of color in our city, particually the Latino community and the Marshallian Islander community. There are several projects in the Stratigic plan that call for extended citizen involvement, so there is still time to correct that problem.”
Slater also hopes to see more council action in other areas of city government that “could lose out if the budget is driven by the Stratigic Plan as we’ve been discussing it. I’m thinking specifically of parks here, that we can all agree are a bit underfunded.”
Another important part of Salem’s new Strategic Plan is the enviornment. City Council goals stated in the Plan include support for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as energy conservation in City facilities and operations.
Linda Wallmark, who spoke at the council meeting on Monday on behalf of 350 Salem, a leader in the grassroots climate movement, expressed their full support for the adoption of the environmental action goals and thanked the Council for including stakeholder groups in the process of consideration when developing their environmental action goals.
Wallmark emphasized the importance of including a variety of community groups for a broader representation of Salem’s community, saying, “We need to be mindful of the need for consensus building and communication with the public every step of the way. A climate action plan must address the welfare of all residents in Salem.”
The Environmental goals stated include the development of a climate plan that prioritizes reductions of greenhouse gas emissions in collaboration with local utilities, State Agencies, educational institutions and community involvement.
At the Council meeting Monday night Chris Hoy said, “I just want to say how happy and proud I am to have a climate action adgenda in our strategic plan. It’s high time that we did that.”
Transportation has been a major point of contention and important issue for a large segment of Salem’s population and the City Council’s Strategic Plan specifies the need for a public transportation system that meets community needs and acknowledges what works and what doesn’t.
Specifically the City admits that the Transit Service in Salem does not meet the needs of the community and the absence of night and weekend public transportation needs to be to be rectified.
The new transportaton goals include more clarity between the city and Cherriots in their intergovernmental agreement and call for cooperation on how Transit operates in City right-of-way, location of stops, shelters, and associated parking regulations. It will also set up a Transit Committee to advise the City Council on the diverse needs of the community and review development regulations that impact the ability of transit to provide effective service.
At the City Council meeting on Monday, Councilor Cara Kaser, Ward 1, said she is enthusiastic about their accomplishment. “The city has never had a Strategic Plan. I think that’s a really big deal. The city as a whole, in a unified way, has never had one before.”
And Mayor Chuck Bennett said of this first-time, long-term strategy plan, “One of the things I thought about as well is that I hope we won’t let this get on a shelf, I really do. And I think one way you avoid shelving this kind of document is beginning to look at due dates and looking at dates of accomplishment.”
Kacey Duncan, Deputy City Manager, ended the Strategic Plan discussion on a positive note. “I want to offer my reassurance, as would the City Manager if he were here, that this will become a living document, that it will drive what we do and who we are.”
To read Salem’s Strategic Plan, go to cityofsalem.net/citydocuments/citywide-strategic-plan.pdf