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Medford needs to set priorities

Medford is a unique and special place to live and work. The sense of community and love we have for our hometown permeates our identity. Regardless of civic pride, we must accept that new frontiers of globalization and modernity are creating stresses and fault lines requiring action.

Without abandoning the belief that Medford is exceptional, we must face the honest truth that many of our problems are found in cities and towns across America and that in an increasingly mobile society, there is a competition between cities that Medford cannot afford to disengage from. The examples are too numerous to list here, but the equally limitless solutions have one thing in common: To be successful, they require a concerted, focused effort from the community.

To this end, the city of Medford like many municipalities, has prepared an extensive strategic plan to address the growing needs of the community. The current plan lists 16 goals and over 150 actions that staff is directed to take in support of such goals. Each and every one of them is a sound public policy position, but in my view, the current document is too broad to give meaningful strategic guidance. Effective strategy identifies priorities that should be pursued at the expense of other desires.

In broad terms, government budgeting and policy fall into two categories: essential services and discretionary spending. Under any scenario, we will continue to fund police, fire, water, sewer, storm drains and roads; likewise, the policies for these activities will remain constant. Everything else is politically discretionary.

The easiest thing is to continue the status quo and support the "how it’s always been done” mentality. The effects of such indecision are on display in Washington, D.C., where baseline budgeting frames policy discussion based on what was approved last year. Such a mindset, especially at the local level, ignores the reality that we have limited resources, and that to prioritize everything is to prioritize nothing.

The good news for Medford is that we have a successful recent history of defining important projects. Funding the police and fire capital projects was an essential step in maintaining their level of service. Funding the final phase of US Cellular Community Park was the capstone of years of focus on recreation. We are, however, running out of low-hanging fruit. There are several good paths before us, but the choices required are more difficult than funding public safety or already successful recreation facilities.

Last week, the mayor wrote about the need to explore the feasibility of a convention center, a position I strongly support. Two weeks before that, the City Council extensively discussed the benefits of downtown housing and how much public subsidy is warranted. There is a perennial discussion about revitalizing downtown.

These are all worthy projects that would improve the livability of Medford, and any in-depth inquiry would certainly produce additional options. The challenge is to find the political courage to say that the majority of these ideas will be delayed so that a select few can succeed.

The City Council has set aside time in January for the past few years to focus on strategic planning. It is my sincere hope these observations are taken to heart and an actionable strategic plan is produced.

Daniel Bunn is president of the Medford City Council. The views expressed in this piece are the individual's and do not necessarily represent the opinions or positions of the City Council.