Pickerington Mayor Mitch O'Brien, added by a public policy consulting firm, recently identified 10 priorities for the city as it concludes 2010 and heads into next year.

Pickerington Mayor Mitch O'Brien, added by a public policy consulting firm, recently identified 10 priorities for the city as it concludes 2010 and heads into next year.

Finding a still-elusive sustainable funding source, setting policy for paying off city debt, bolstering economic development and improving communications with residents and businesses are among Pickerington's "Top 10 Goals" set forth in a strategic plan announced on Oct. 19.

The goals and the strategic plan were established at a city council retreat last August facilitated by Columbus-based Governing Dynamic. O'Brien and several other city administrators and staff members also helped identify Pickerington's strengths and weaknesses to compile the list and the overall strategic plan.

"Council and I came up with the goals," O'Brien said. Staff members were involved in the discussion phase at the retreat.

"Governing Dynamic was the facilitator," he said. "As we named items that we thought were important, they documented them and when we voted on top issues, they tallied them."

O'Brien said Governing Dynamic helped formulate a top 10 list from more than 100 concepts. The company was paid $1,000 to lead the retreat.

Since 2009, the city has paid Governing Dynamic $43,000 for strategic planning, a public opinion survey, a communications plan and the council retreat.

O'Brien said projects and policies deemed unfeasible were eliminated, and some goals were prioritized based on whether related projects or initiatives already were under way.

"We then took what was in the works or feasible and voted on them, tallied them and came up with 10 that rose to the top," he said.

At the top of the list is defining an "alternative source of sustainable funding."

City officials have struggled with such a plan for several years. A November 2008 levy that would have raised income taxes from 1 percent to 2 percent failed by a nearly two-to-one count.

Council's finance committee, which consists of all seven council members, is expected to decide Nov. 3 whether to seek an income tax increase next May.

Also on the city's new top 10 list is a call to establish a business-retention plan, defining a five-year financial plan, creating standard operating procedures and defining a long-range debt plan.

Additionally, the goals include continuing to explore and participate in joint economic-development opportunities, creating a community drug-enforcement and education program, attacking all communication opportunities, being proactive in street maintenance and reviewing Pickerington's current master plan.

O'Brien said many of the goals are in varying stages of progress, but he noted the plan to create a community drug enforcement and education program is expected to gain momentum when city officials meet with local low enforcement and drug abuse and prevention experts this fall.

The strategic plan identified Pickerington's two greatest weaknesses as having a "reputation of being hard to deal with" and communications issues.

O'Brien said the city is addressing communications issues, in part, by establishing Facebook and Twitter accounts online, which can allow residents and others to keep up with city businesses and issues. He said efforts are increasing to issue press releases about city news.

As for its reputation, O'Brien said it's hard to tackle the issue because he doesn't know the source of the allegations.

"If I was able to know who in particular said that and in what context, I would be able to answer," he said. "However, I can say that I have received several very positive comments back on the improvements made in the building department, with the streamlining of processes and establishment of improved procedures there. Additionally, our Tuesday 'open door' availability of all development staff for potential developers has also been very well-received."

Among strengths identified in the plan were council members' diverse ideas and ability to work with each other and residents. It also said city manager Bill Vance, city engineer Greg Bachman and the police and service departments are among Pickerington's positive attributes.

An aging infrastructure - which city officials said can't be addressed without increased revenue - city debt and a lack of employee training also were cited as weaknesses.

Vance said the city is hamstrung by financial issues, but continues to look for ways to bolster all city services and infrastructure.

"Other standards currently evident as related to city operations are Pickerington's commitments to maintaining high levels of customer service while stressing professional accountability along the way," he said.

"Employee training and continuing education activities will remain in place in 2011, again most significantly in (the police department) due to the dangerous nature of their professional responsibilities, but will also be routine in our economic development, development services, water and wastewater treatment, human resources and finance departments."