In 2003, Gladstone, Missouri, faced some difficult challenges—an aging population, strict boundaries that prevented physical growth, declining revenues, a declining business environment and inadequate city services. There was only one ambulance and two paramedics to provide emergency services and no place to house the city’s recreational programs for youth.
With technical assistance from Derek Okubo, a former National Civic League vice president who now works as Director of Human Rights and Community Relations for the city of Denver, more than 150 citizens participated in the community effort known as “Gladstone on the Move…Citizens Making a Difference.”
The group identified six key performance areas or KPAs: Business/Economic Development, Neighborhoods, Community Center, City Services, Education, Identity/Regionalism. The group researched and discussed the issue and came up with a list of priorities.
Gladstone on the Move came up with a plan that could be used to guide the city over the next 20 years. Next step: create an implementation committee to figure out a timeline and an action plan for achieving the desired results.
The citizens themselves recommended Gladstone’s first ever property tax increase to the city council, also to extend a sales tax that was about to expire to pay for parks and recreation needs. The council put the tax increases on the ballot and Gladstone on the Move campaigned to get them passed.
The community now has a complete ambulance service that is fully staffed, not only basic life support for getting people to a hospital but advanced life support for people suffering heart attacks, strokes and other medical emergencies.
It also has a marketing program. It is building more sidewalks than ever before. It has a comprehensive street lighting program, three major economic development initiatives, several hundred square feet in retail and several thousand in housing units with an affordable housing philosophy.
With the parks and recreation sales tax, they invested $1.3 million in an existing outdoor pool to make it a family event center, the city constructed a $25 million community center in partnership with the nearby school districts, complete with indoor recreation pools and the fitness area and the conference rooms and all that. It also has a competitive swim arena used to host the high school swim competition.
The point here is not that taxes are good and every community should raise them. The point is, if you have these needs and desires: a recreation center, a better ambulance service, an economic development plan, more street lighting, you need to figure out how to pay for it, and it helps to have that conversation out in the open with members of the public taking the leading role.
There can be little doubt that these tax proposals could easily have failed without the Gladstone on the Move process. As one local official put it, “When you involve people and you listen and you take action, positive outcomes result.”
Gladstone was an All-America City Award winner in 2008. The Gladstone on the Move process won a Program Excellence Award from the International City/County Management Association in the strategic planning category.
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Mike McGrath is senior editor and chief information officer for the National Civic League. A former newspaper reporter and magazine writer, he is editor of the quarterly National Civic Review, which will be beginning its centennial year of publishing this spring.
Mike’s posts will appear every Thursday on the State of the Re:Union website.