Troutman council, staff review accomplishments and set new goals
BY DEBBIE PAGE
During their annual retreat, Troutman Town Council members and town staff began the process of developing a strategic plan for town operations and decision-making to ensure focused, measurable service and growth for the town in the coming years.
The retreat at Lake Norman State Park also continued the group’s mission statement and goals process as well as reviewing department accomplishments, studying challenges ahead and looking at future projects.
ABC and Planning and Zoning Chair Layton Getsinger presented a proposal, crafted by Town Manager Justin Longino and Getsinger, to create a strategic plan to guide the town in its work through the explosive growth on the horizon.
Getsinger has an extensive business and leadership background, including serving as associate vice chancellor for Administration and Finance at East Carolina University for 10 years, acting as chief operating officer of Copy Pro for eight years, and 20 years as a pilot in the U.S. Navy, where he rose to the rank of of lieutenant commander.
In his career, Getsinger found great success by “getting out of box and challenging the status quo to not do things just because they were always done that way,” he said. The key to innovative thinking is to change people who believe that something cannot be done just because no one has ever done it that way.
Getsinger believes that the town must do its research and present it to get community buy-in to innovative solutions to its challenges and growth, asking the question, “How do we get to the future creatively?”
Getsinger cited one problem as the incomplete 2035 Comprehensive Land Use Plan, a quality document that lacks priorities for action to show how to implement and fund the plan. He noted all the staff has varied talents, but that there is a need for outside guidance to get its plans to fruition.
A strategic plan will provide a roadmap for the town to work each day toward the accomplishment of its targeted goals. Outside specialists can create a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis to help staff and the council to define their goals.
The analysis would define necessary actions, staffing requirements, and priorities to create plans of action. Staff would meet on Monday to determine what needed to be accomplished toward goals that week and meet again on Friday to get feedback on progress and plan for the next week. Staff “would now know the focus of work each day” to achieve the town’s goals, added Getsinger.
A strategic plan also guides funding and budgeting each year, eliminating most pop-up funding requests because they do not meet stated goals. Getsinger noted the plan must be updated periodically because external factors, such as the economy and population, will change.
However, a strategic plan will help staff and council members craft a 10-year plan to build out the town according to its vision rather than letting the growth itself take control.
The strategic plan would be created with input from the Town Council, staff and other stakeholders such as business leaders and citizens. The process will take a period of several months, but the consultant could give some staff and council members some guidelines more quickly as they work on the plan over the longer term of four to five months.
Getsinger reiterated that the strategic plan must be “a living, breathing document” that will make life and work simpler for all concerned.
Getsinger noted that at times in his career when he lacked a strategic plan’s direction, he was always busy but some days wondered what he accomplished without something to measure his effort against.
Longino and Getsinger proposed creating a Request For Proposals (RFP) document to solicit bids and information to proceed with the strategic plan process, with the final product being a Town Operations Manual to guide all operations.
The manual will break down all goals to specific staff responsibilities so that “all will know exactly what they are working towards since everything they do will be based on this document. This will take most of the stress and guesswork out of running town,” said Getsinger.
Council member Paul Henkel supported being more organized and planning ahead. He liked having a strategic plan to follow so that staff could learn and grow to increase consistency and efficiency.
Henkel said documents like these are “needed today even for small communities with all on board.” He advocated for moving from “from the talking stage to action stage. This will serve as a guide for the future and accountability for past.”
Council member Paul Bryant agreed, noting that this was an effective tool in business. “All can participate and have joy in making future happen the way we want it to happen,” he said.
Bryant added that crafting the strategic plan will help all reach consensus on what should happen in Troutman, both immediately and long term. The plan’s common goals will create buy-in and improve measurability, added Bryant.
Getsinger said the plan would also help identify trigger points for things such as additional staff and building more office space. “The plan will provide answers to questions we wrestle with and allow all of us to be on same page,” he said.
Hiring consultants to craft the plan will cost the town money, but Getsinger argued that the cost of not doing it will be seen in the cost of unfocused operations, unnecessary spending and effort that does not move the town forward.
Getsinger asked council members to see the plan as an investment in the future, not an expense. All the towns’s separate plans, such as land use, bike and pedestrian, park, and other plans will be coordinated into the one strategic plan.
Mayor Teross Young added that the council and staff must make sure that the strategic plan is used.
“We have to utilize it to implement programs and bring them to life. This expert opinion and guidance will help us to decide what we want to accomplish and then we will follow it to bring it to life," he said.
The council and staff divided into groups of six to discuss the draft mission statement. Young was concerned about different perceptions of the word “balance,” which could be fleshed out in the strategic plan’s goals.
Some in Young’s group saw it as a balance of infrastructure and growth, while others perceived it as a balance of tradition and growth that matches the town’s identity and what it wants to be, which will require being strategic about choices.
The groups also decided to add “community” after the word “responsibility” so that the final statement reads as: “Troutman government is a progressive organization committed to creating a high quality of life that features a safe, healthy environment where tradition and growth is in balance. We accomplish this through fiscal responsibility, community, partnerships, and quality service to our citizens.”
The draft of core values was also slightly altered, adding elected officials to the leadership section and adding the word “transparent” to the trust value.
The group tentatively approved the core values as follows:
Communication: We interact with our citizens and each other in an open, approachable, and responsive manner through personal interactions and use of a wide variety of media formats.
Leadership: We are an effective team of elected officials and highly trained professional staff who strives for innovation, progressive solutions, proactive services to citizens, and decisions that consistently serve the best interests of the community.
Safety: We utilize our resources to build and enhance a community environment where citizens and employees feel safe to live, work, shop, and play.
Teamwork: We are committed to our responsibility to work together with each other and our citizens in a spirit of collaboration and mutual respect to meet our common goals.
Trust: We build trust with each other and our citizens by being transparent, accountable, dependable, and ethical in all our actions.
Longino plans to create a cross-departmental team for each of these values to note strengths and determine improvements in each area, which will help make the mission statement come to life.
These updated drafts will be presented to the council for final approval at its March meeting.
Longino also listed challenges ahead for the town, with growth and the accompanying increase in workload and staffing needs at the top of the list. The crowded Town Hall was also a continuing problem.
Other obstacles are unforeseen expenses and funding challenges, such as the greenway expansion causing increasing mowing, trash collection, and lighting expenses. Aging infrastructure and equipment, the need to modernize processes, and the increase in traffic, crime, and demand for services that comes with growth were also issues the town will face.
Longino also noted the infrequency of meetings with council as a challenge because of the increasing amount of information coming with growth. He suggested more regular meetings to increase communication and responsiveness. Recruitment and retention of staff is also a concern.
Longino began the town government and staff’s annual retreat with a review of some of the accomplishments so far this fiscal year.
The town manager revealed the long-awaited Troutman Business Council website will be unveiled next week at the council’s February meeting. He also touted the growing staff, including expanded programming with Parks and Recreation Coordinator Emily Watson now full time. A partnership with Lifespan and a UNCC intern also helped expand staff to provide improved services at a low cost.
Longino also noted updating business processes, including those involving code enforcement and hiring, a longer and improved newsletter, the creation of infographics for town departments and services, and the Verizon water tower lease to bring in additional revenue.
Staff has also completed additional coursework to keep skills updated and gain certifications and participated in the mission statement building process. Downtown beautification and wayfinding signage, curb painting, repaving parking lots, getting lights on the greenway, and land use plan updates are also focus areas this year
Public Works Director Adam Lippard announced one of his staff has earned ASE certification in vehicle repair and light maintenance, which will help reduce outside repair costs. His department also achieved a 0 incident safety status while doing dangerous work each day, a feat that was a point of pride for all.
Lippard also informed council that the department passed its N.C. Department of Environmental Quality audit, scoring above standards in all areas.
Upcoming goals including an employee earning ASE certification in diesel repair and getting to work soon on the Mill Village wastewater project. The department also plans upgrades at older pump stations, installation of amenities at ESC Park, and updating of software for programmable logic controllers (PLCs) for the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system used to monitor the town’s water system.
PARKS AND RECREATION
Watson detailed Parks and Recreation accomplishments, including installation of the engraved bricks, the opening of the Lake Norman Humane Dog Park, and installation of sunshades and benches at ESC Park.
The department also is overseeing the new Adopt-a-Street program, with four of the 16 areas adopted. New events included the Wicked Fast 5K (with 180 participating), the scarecrow building workshop (100 families participated), and the new Troutman Walking Co. and Couch to 5K programs.
Watson also reported brisk pavilion rentals, with 71 so far, and greatly increased attendance at events such as the Jingle Bell Run and Party in the Park.
The department is currently working on completion of the volleyball courts at ESC Park, with netting poles and top sand still to install when weather permits. The courts should be operational in the spring.
A new Community Easter Egg Hunt event is scheduled for March 24, and the 6th Annual Sprint into Spring 5K/10K/Fun Run is March 3, with 65 already registered. The new Troutman Industrial Park is lead sponsor of the event. Proceeds of the race go to Phase 2 of the park development.
Chief Matthew Selves noted continuing programs such as the “Coffee with a Cop” the First Tuesday of every month, the increasingly popular National Night Out annual event, and the PACT Turkey Giveaway.
The recent gift card giveaway for minor traffic violations was a success, garnering the attention of WBTV’s “Good News” segment. Selves plans to continue this unannounced event this year.
Selves also noted a number of much appreciated donations to the department, including officer down kits, a K-9 bulletproof vest, a new K-9 to replace the recently retired Lord, and the headstone for deceased K-9 Odin.
The Medicine Drop Box, donated by Project Lazarus, has collected about 125 pounds of medicines since its installation in October. The department also received Narcan and training in its use from Drug-Alcohol Abuse Free Iredell and Project Lazurus.
Selves is also waiting on funds from a computer grant to replace aging technology and will replace several older guns through a state trade-in program that provides new weapons for only $150.
Selves is also expanding the 24 hours of required training to include leadership classes in addition to areas such as fire arms, domestic violence issues, and sensitivity.
Selves hopes to reinstate the DARE Program at Troutman Middle School next year to help combat an uptick in alcohol and drug use among Iredell’s youth.
He is also instituting a Community Policing Initiative that will divide Troutman into sections, with a specific officer on each shift to increase relationships with community members. He also plans to start TPACT (Troutman Police and Community Together), a group made up of officers, community members, and government representatives to discuss community issues, meet officers, and do ride-a-longs to increase members’ knowledge of police work.
Selves also recently submitted a $15,000 to $25,000 grant for Active Shooter Response equipment from the Governor’s Crime Commission. The money would pay for additional officer protection, active shooter simulation training, tourniquets and first-aid materials, and extra ammunition for emergency situations, like the recent school shooting in Florida.
Mayor Young noted that bullying often played a role in such tragic shootings and requested that the chief look into a reporting phone line to get help for victims of bullying or to report threatening or concerning behavior to avoid such escalation to tragedy.
Council members favored hiring consultant services to create the strategic plan, which would include study of staffing and workload, facility needs, HR services and grant writing.
They also supported a return of the Citizens Academy, perhaps on a biennial basis, with perhaps the addition of an online course for those who cannot come or who want to learn more about the town at any time.
Longino also suggested Sunday calls, like those to residents in Statesville, to inform citizens weekly of various town service schedules, upcoming events, or special announcements, which council members strongly favored.
Longino also suggested additional training for staff, updating and extending the Capital Improvement Plan, and updating infrastructure and equipment through grants, loans and budget line items.
Other plans include continuing and refreshing as needed the town’s infrastructure, strategic, economic development, land use, park/amenity, and downtown plans.