FD leaders emphasize recreation, housing

Improving recreation and housing options should be the top priorities in Fort Dodge, the city’s elected officials decided Monday night.

At the conclusion of a three-hour strategic planning session, Mayor Matt Bemrich and the City Council identified recreation and housing as the key areas that officials should emphasize during the 2014-2015 fiscal year that will begin on July 1.

They agreed that a strategy for helping the city become a recreation, cultural and entertainment destination should be the No. 1 priority.

”If you don’t have that, you don’t bring in people,” Councilman Kim Alstott said after the meeting.

He said the managers of manufacturing firms look for communities that offer their employees fun things to do when they’re not at work.

”We want to be a community in which we attract new manufacturers,” he said.

Improving the housing options by offering incentives and planning for infrastructure improvements was identified by officials as the No. 2 priority. The City Council approved property tax breaks for the construction of new houses and apartments last year, but officials want to see if any other incentives are possible.

A portion of the proposal for improving the housing stock dovetails with the No. 3 priority identified Monday, which is providing utilities and infrastructure that supports growth.

Other priorities identified Monday included:

– Committing to long-term plans.

– Ensuring that residents are safe and perceive that they are safe.

– Partnering with other organizations to make the community attractive to businesses and their employees.

City Manager David Fierke said he and the city staff will develop ways of measuring progress on the priorities the elected officials established. He said he hopes to have them prepared by the end of June.

”It shows the priorities that the City Council wants to tackle,” Alstott said.

Councilman Terry Moehnke said the strategic planning session was productive, and added that it gave some direction to the city staff.

The planning session was led by Rick Brimeyer, the president of Brimeyer LLC in Ames. He has been a consultant to the city on planning and lean government processes for about five years.

Recreation

Expanding the city’s partnership with the Fort Dodge Community Recreation Center is one of the initiatives identified by officials as a way to improve recreation options.

The city has for decades offered programs through its Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department. The Recreation Center began offering programs a few years ago after it took over the former YMCA. The city and the Recreation Center began working together recently in a partnership called the Recreation Alliance.

Lori Branderhorst, the director of Parks, Recreation and Forestry, said the alliance is ”trying to become a seamless recreation entity.”

”The Recreation Alliance is really going well,” she told the council Monday.

For example, she said about 600 children will play baseball and softball in Recreation Alliance programs this year. She said that’s about twice the number of children who participated in those sports last year.

The creation of more trails was identified as another initiative to expand recreation options. Since 2010, about 15 miles of trails have been built in a $6.8 million effort.

There isn’t a definitive plan in place for additional trails. Branderhorst said the next steps will be prioritizing potential trail sites and seeking grants to pay for building the new ones.

Moehnke said that improving the Oleson Park Zoo should also be a recreation priority. City officials and representatives of the friends of the Oleson Park Zoo have talked about creating some more natural habitats for the animals. The Friends of the Oleson Park Zoo is a volunteer group that owns the animals and takes care of them.