Cecil County ‘Strategic Plan’ Draft Sets Future Goals; But Short on How to Get There
A new proposed ‚Äústrategic plan‚ÄĚ for Cecil County‚Äôs future, mandated by the new county Charter, sets five priorities for the county‚Äôs next five years but at least in its draft form, it is long on lofty rhetoric and short on concrete steps on how to achieve its goals.
The proposal–drafted by a panel of senior county employees, local officials and representatives of the business community‚ÄĒwas written over the past five months, and is being put out for public comment and potential further revision before a final plan is presented to the County Council for adoption before 5/1/14.
At the first meeting of the ‚ÄúStrategic Plan Advisory Network‚ÄĚ (SPAN) on 7/10/13, County Executive Tari Moore told the group that she had four priorities for county government: infrastructure, job creation, education and ‚Äėsafe communities.‚Äô
The draft plan presented just before Christmas by the SPAN group expanded upon and re-arranged Moore‚Äôs original four priorities, listing education at the top of the list, followed by ‚Äúfiscal stability,‚ÄĚ infrastructure, economic growth, and ‚Äúsafety and health.‚ÄĚ Moore‚Äôs original proposal did not mention ‚Äúfiscal stability.‚ÄĚ
The result of the SPAN group‚Äôs deliberations falls short of the goals of at least some of the participants, as reflected in the minutes of the panel‚Äôs 8/14/13 meeting, at which the panel broke into small groups for discussion, and ‚Äúseveral groups wanted to make bold statements, to aim high.‚ÄĚ Boldness is not obvious in the draft proposal, which largely re-states various existing county reports and policies and does not outline a blueprint for implementation.
In the report, Moore provided an introductory statement, in which she said, ‚ÄúThe Cecil County 2014-2019 Strategic Plan represents our Vision, Values, and Priorities for the upcoming years. Working together with our citizens and business partners, Cecil County Government will maintain focus on actions that result in economic vitality, quality education, and safe communities.‚ÄĚ
The draft plan declares five ‚Äústrategic priorities‚ÄĚ for Cecil County government in the next five years:
‚Äú–Priority 1: Cecil County will advance lifelong educational opportunities for citizens of all ages that serve as a foundation to enhance the quality of life.
‚Äú–Priority 2: Cecil County will provide fiscal stability that is predictable, sustainable and supports the community to establish a secure financial foundation.
‚Äú–Priority 3: Cecil County will implement improvements in infrastructure that results in creating enhanced quality of life for citizens and opportunities for residential and economic development.
‚Äú–Priority 4: Cecil County will create an environment that encourages economic growth through job creation, business development, and community revitalization.
‚ÄúPriority 5: Cecil County will improve the quality of life for citizens by enhancing safety and health in all communities.‚ÄĚ
The report includes a clever graphic, spelling out C-E-C-I-L‚ÄĒ‚Äúcollaboration, excellence, citizen involvement, integrity, leadership,‚ÄĚ as the watchwords of the plan.
The one priority that was not included in the County Executive‚Äôs directive to the SPAN panel, ‚Äúfiscal stability,‚ÄĚ provides an interesting insight‚ÄĒand an apparent fiscal timing error‚ÄĒon the group‚Äôs evaluation of the current and upcoming budget situation.
At one point, the SPAN report observes, ‚ÄúThe assets of the County exceeded its liabilities at the close of [Fiscal Year] 2014 by $179,952,169.‚ÄĚ (In fact, the current Fiscal 2014 budget year does not end until 6/30/14.) The SPAN draft also predicts that, ‚ÄúAs the County prepares the budget for the fiscal year 2015, it is projecting use of the fund balance to balance the budget.‚ÄĚ
Moore recently told Cecil Times in an exclusive interview that she planned to seek a second consecutive ‚Äėfreeze‚Äô on the property tax rate in the upcoming Fiscal 2015 budget, but she did not specify how she planned to achieve that goal. The SPAN report assumes she will once again tap county reserve funds‚ÄĒas she did in the current Fiscal 2014 budget‚ÄĒto meet her property tax freeze goal.
The SPAN proposal also includes rhetorical admonitions that the county should seek the maximum possible state aid to meet its various goals, from education to infrastructure needs. But the state has been consistently reducing its share of aid to local services and has dumped an increasing fiscal burden on the counties, including an annually escalating share of the costs of teacher pensions which, until a few years ago, were totally paid for by the state.
In the SPAN proposal‚Äôs discussion of ‚Äúinfrastructure‚ÄĚ needs, the group identifies the need for expanded and enhanced broadband Internet access as a key component of providing basic services to residents and incentives to attract economic development and business opportunities. But how to achieve that elusive goal is not specified. Much of Cecil County is excluded from current high-speed Internet access via private service providers.
Cecil County Council President Robert Hodge (R-5) recently proposed creation of an advisory panel to explore how to implement and promote expanded high-speed/broadband Internet services in Cecil County. The SPAN report offers no alternatives or incentives on how to bring such important services to the county.
Other infrastructure goals reiterate the longstanding county wish-list of providing water and sewer services in the designated growth corridor, between I-95 and Route 40, to attract businesses. But the plan offers no solutions to the perennial problems of how to achieve, and pay for, that goal.
The plan‚Äôs top priority‚ÄĒeducation‚ÄĒdoes have an achievable goal in its support for the recently approved acquisition of the Basell property for a new county School of Technology to provide vocational/technical education and skills for high school students. But that goal was put into action by the recent county schools‚Äô purchase of the property with the support of the new majority of the County Council. The previous Board of Commissioners had rejected the Basell/tech school plan last year.
The draft SPAN proposal is available for review on the county‚Äôs website, along with a separate comment form on which county residents may offer their views and suggestions. The draft proposal is available at this link:
[UPDATE: Read a Letter to the Editor regarding the Strategic Plan proposal from former Cecil County Commissioner Rebecca Demmler, at this link on Cecil Times: