Thursday, December 28, 2006

Year In Review

Here is the Ross Valley Reporter column I've submitted for publication next week, Fairfax - the Year in Review.

This past year saw much change and progress in Fairfax, and as there is so much news to share, I have chosen to highlight those significant items that were new and noteworthy. From my vantage point, the themes for the Town this past year were flood recovery, financial planning, and expanding communication and connection with the community.

Flood Recovery

New Year’s Eve Storm: We all know that 2006 was ushered in with a devastating storm of FEMA proportions. Most of our merchants were reopened within a week of the flood, and some residents spent the early part of the year repairing flood-damaged homes. The Town still suffers due to projects that have yet to be approved by FEMA, such as Creek Road Bridge and the town buildings which are not yet repaired.

The silver lining of the Ross Valley flooding was Supervisor Hal Brown’s initiative to pull all the Ross Valley agencies together for the Ross Valley Flood Protection and Watershed Program, which has made tremendous progress within the course of the year. The Council voted to join Flood Control District No. 9 to work regionally on solutions for flood control and financial mechanisms to enhance flood protection. At the urging of Council Member Larry Bragman (who is now our Mayor), the Council and the Flood District agreed that the Town of Fairfax will retain the right to approve any flood control project within the Town.

Disaster Preparedness: The flood not only called us all into action but reminded us of the need to be prepared at all times for disasters. The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training effort was bolstered and saw more interest, with several Fairfax residents completing the two-day course. Council Member Susan Brandborg, Mayor for 2006, reactivated the Fairfax Citizens’ Disaster Council, a group of residents assisting public safety officials to work on ways to better prepare our community. Two Disaster Preparedness Fairs were held, in March and September; a Pandemic influenza presentation was hosted; CERT training was more widely publicized; and information and resources continue to be shared. An informal volunteer Creek Monitoring Working Group was formed to harness the volunteer energy around manually monitoring local creek levels and providing information to the Town, and also looking at technological solutions for monitoring. Further, the Town entered into a contract for a siren emergency warning system, scheduled for installation this month. In addition, our Police Department, working in conjunction with the Fire Department and the Citizens’ Disaster Council, updated our Town’s Emergency Operations Plan.

Financial Planning

Strategic Planning: Starting in January, the Council embarked upon the Town’s first strategic planning effort, where one Saturday a month is set aside to speak to the larger issues of the future of Town finances and collective goals of the Council. The Council’s work and conversations in this area have been very lively, thought-provoking and productive. The Council has created a preliminary list of goals and is working on a strategic financial plan which will be completed in 2007.

Economic Development Advisory Committee: Through its strategic planning process, the Council created the Town’s first Economic Development Advisory Committee, which includes six business community members as well as the Council, to brainstorm and study how the town’s revenue base can grow in line with community needs and values.

Budget Process: After three months of extensive public hearings and workshops, the Town Council adopted a balanced budget. During this process, I learned what is and what is not acceptable to the community in terms of budget cuts.

Regional Consolidation Studies: In order to study the possible cost-effectiveness and enhancement of police services, the Towns of Fairfax and San Anselmo joined together and are having a police consolidation study conducted by the Peace Officer Standards and Training agency. Pending the results of this initial study, a further study may be conducted or direction given on the future of this idea. In addition, this year, the Ross Valley Fire Service joined in with other area fire agencies to explore the opportunity for regional consolidation of fire services for potential service enhancement and cost savings. In 2007 we will see some resolution in both of these potential public safety consolidation areas.

Expanding Community Communication and Connection

New location for Farmer’s Market: Council Member David Weinsoff’s vision for moving the Farmer’s Market to a more conducive, attractive and economically viable location came true as the Farmer’s Market was held in lovely Bolinas Park this summer and fall. The move was welcomed and strengthened the sense of community, plus Bolinas Park as a gathering place is a beautiful spot.

Youth & Alcohol Task Force: Council Members Mary Ann Maggiore and Lew Tremaine started a new task force dedicated to helping teens with healthy and fun alternatives to underage drinking, and held Ross Valley’s first teen coffee house in December, which was wildly successful. The Task Force works closely with Drake Leadership and parents in looking at longer-term alternatives focusing on engaging youth in the community.

Town Code on-line: Thanks to the efforts of our Town Clerk Judy Anderson, our Town Municipal Code is on-line for the first time, with a link from our Town website, making it easier for residents to look up Town regulations.

News from Town Hall: In order to enhance the frequency and speed of communications, I implemented a blog which logged over 200 entries in 2006, and also started this newspaper column. The Town’s website has also been kept more current this year to keep residents up to date.

We look forward to a great 2007 and I welcome your comments and suggestions any time.