Council looks to future at retreat

Published 11:19 am Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Austin City Council members heard from city department managers Monday at the first night of a retreat to plan their 2012 priorities.

Although it took about an hour to get the discussion rolling, Austin City Council members spent the night reviewing 2011 and looking forward to the rest of 2012 by learning more about the ways the city’s departments are collaborating.

Council member Steve King said he wants to see the city maintain its level of services in the next year.

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“To me, this is like a post-season discussion about how you can get better when you lost two games,” King said. “My feeling for 2012 is let’s maintain. Let’s keep on truckin’.”

City Administrator Jim Hurm told council members to pat themselves on the back for their hard work last year.

However, Hurm said council members still need to be motivated coming into 2012.

“We can pat ourselves on the back and take a deep breath,” he said. “How can we still be financially careful and conservative, but at the same time recognize we have a lot of work to do?”

Ann Hokanson, executive director of the Austin Public Library, said she has a wish-list of things she could improve at the library, if only there were more funding.

“We could be doing a lot more programming, a lot more reaching out into the schools,” she said. “Public support is really what our budget is based on. We’re about a (letter grade) B; we could get to an A. It takes time and money.”

Council members recently approved the hiring of a children’s librarian at the library, and Hokanson said that will help free up her time to work on outreach programs. A future focus could be Austin’s seniors. Hokanson said she would like to partner with the Mower County Senior Center and other area entities to save money while providing services to a variety of demographics.

“What I would like to do is a lot more partnering with people where we can do more by sharing what we have in our resources,” she said. “It’s not rocket science, and every library in literally the world is facing the same thing.”

Police Chief Brian Krueger said the police department is in the midst of forming a potential partnership, as well. The APD animal shelter and the Mower County Humane Society could share resources in the future. Krueger said the two entities would likely house their shelters in separate buildings on one campus so they could share services without impeding on each other’s purposes.

“We definitely want to have a joint venture,” Krueger said. “Their main concerns are some of their (donors) are concerned because they are a no-kill facility, and obviously there are times when we must destroy a dog because it’s a dangerous dog. They want to differentiate themselves from us.”

Council members are scheduled for another three-hour retreat session Tuesday night. They will hear from more department heads and formulate a list of priorities for the year.