Sunday, December 30, 2007

Crystal Ball Time

For the third time, we will try to fire up the old crystal ball. You might enjoy looking at our previous prognostications here and here.

Infrastructure will be in the news frequently in the coming year. There will be continuing work on the water and sewer systems, and the roads might get the first serious traffic studies in decades. The city might even bring the traffic signals up to late 20th century standards. Expect heated discussions about the need for infrastructure improvements and its impact on private property and businesses. The inclusion of the Capital Budget in the city charter makes this an easy prediction.

Public safety will be a hot topic. First, we have both Chief of Police and the Sheriff up for election. All candidates will promise to "do something." It remains to be seen whether these will be new, creative ideas or just more of the same old same old. There will be heated discussions on introducing technologies that intrude on privacy in the name of public safety and security. Hopefully we will be able to have realistic and effective limits, checks, and balances in place. This won't happen if we don't get more private citizen involvement. This will have to come from all stakeholders (ie. citizens) in the city. Youth involvement will be especially critical. All aspects of public safety and the criminal justice system will have tough questions asked. I am cautiously optimistic that we can come up with some good answers, but it will take a lot of work.

One of the most critical youth issues, Education, is likely to show little positive progress. The problems that were there during the last bond election are still there, only worse. Inflation has increased the cost of all potential projects, but realistically money was not what caused the failure of the last bond election. Poor communication and bad information lost the last election. There has been no improvement there. If anything it has gotten worse. With all the fanfare of Dr. Bonds soliciting input and covering her office walls, there has been little real output. Poorly communicated management methods such as "sweeps" will add to the problems the school district has selling any bond package. The comments and discussions on Sweeps have not shown the openness or communications skills needed to sell anything to the voters. The slow pace of progress also makes it likely that the School Board will delay the bond issue till the November ballot. Unless they have a very compelling package and an excellent sales plan, they will not fare very well in the heavy voter turnout of a presidential election. If they don't have a package ready by May, they can probably forget a bond.

ASU will have a very good year. There will be lots of cussin' and discussion about Johnson street and traffic in the area, but in the end there will be the start of a plan to fix a long overlooked problem. With its first endowed chair, and an expanding curriculum, they will be on track for the growth they want. They will have to address space problems and that will be a long term challenge. Repairing bridges to the community will also have to be a top priority.

Business and economic development trends will not change very much. There will be a slow down in retail building, and some of the growth will move away for the southwest part of town. The TIRZ zone and the new Supercenter will both draw retail growth, but it will take a while to get any momentum. There will be new industries coming, but these will put the quality of our workforce to the test. The days of good paying jobs for unskilled labor are gone. If you happen to be looking for a job, be prepared to get training. We will start to see some upward movement of the average income. Expect major changes in grants and handouts to businesses. Expect the focus to shift more to homegrown, local businesses.

Expect changes in the cities approach to parks and recreation facilities. The candy store approach will not disappear, but expect to see changes. More creative involvement by all the groups concerned will be required to get anything positive done. Look for more multi-use facilities.

Energy will also start to have more of an impact on the local economy. The wind farms in the area will have spin off and positive collateral impacts. The cost of fuel will keep oil in the area booming, but will have a negative affect on other growth. The greatest impact will be on those with the lowest paying jobs.

Last prediction is that our election office and election workers will continue to do an outstanding job in the coming year. There will be some problems and issues, but they will be minor.

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