Siler City’s strategic plan will lay out goals for future development

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SILER CITY — Siler City has all the pieces for an economic boom. With the Chatham Advanced Manufacturing (CAM) megasite drawing major attention from large manufacturers and an increasing number of proposals for new housing subdivisions, the town’s board of commissioners voted last week to help prepare for what’s ahead by developing a strategic plan.

“A strategic plan helps us, as an organization, to define priorities and assign the mission, vision and values of the organization so that we all have a collective buy-in as to what we’re trying to accomplish,” Siler City Town Manager Hank Raper said.

Commissioners unanimously approved a proposal for a strategic plan from Gary Jackson of McGill Associates. According to the proposal, the strategic plan would address “the subjects of economic development, planning, capital improvements, transportation, infrastructure, recreation, public safety and others,” and would provide a tool to address future Siler City growth and development.

“He is serving as a facilitator so that he can assist us in putting all this out there, so that we can have a cohesive plan to work off of,” Raper said of Jackson. “The goal would be as we grow, we need to do our budget more in line with how larger organizations do that, and the way that’s typically done is you have a strategic plan.”

The plan would provide a written framework to lay out goals and priorities and to allocate resources based on the board’s goals for the town and its operations.

“We assign and align the resources of the town via the staff, the budget and our time towards accomplishing what those objectives are,” Raper said. “We’re working toward those long-term goals, but also making sure we (town staff) are all moving in the same direction and everybody’s not independently working toward their own goals instead of a collective goal.”

Raper said strategic plan processes sometimes take more than a year, but in Siler City’s case, he believes it would take only a few months.

“We already have some plans in place — some of these plans need to be updated, there are some new plans we need,” he said. “But the biggest part of this plan is to establish direction. We know we need to update our land use plan, our comprehensive plan. We need a master Parks and Recreation plan … these are things we’re going to have to do separately, but with the strategic plan, it helps give us direction to carry out those other plans.”

Each of these plans, however, presents its own challenges, according to Raper. He said having separate plans could lead to confusion or forgetting about some already established priorities from previous administrations.

“We have so many different plans out there, and what you don’t want — and I’m concerned has happened in the past either, through lack of priority, funding, or forgetfulness … we get all of these plans put together, and once they’re active … it’s like they go on the shelf and disappear,” Raper said. “If you link it all with a strategic plan, it allows us to go and continue to perfect our priorities through conversations.”

The proposal commissioners approved on Aug. 1 outlines the process to create the strategic plan. Jackson will meet with the commissioners in one-on-one sessions to find out what each sees as a priority for the town, and assess the town’s strengths and weaknesses as an organization.

From there, Jackson will work with staff and the public to develop a priority list of actionable items.

“What we’re trying to do with this plan is help determine what it is that they (the board) actually want to accomplish and see a commonality so that we’re on the same page and working together toward accomplishing that,” Raper said. “If there’s something they want us to do, once this process is done, then we can get into a deeper conversation about how we’re aligning resources.”

Public forums will be hosted to allow residents to voice what they’d like to see as Siler City grows — whether that be allocating more funds to repairing roads, additional recreational programs or other ideas.

“What we would like to do is have a day set aside during this process for the citizens and for our advisory boards to be able to come by and have that discussion,” Raper said. “It’s a participative process because the more input we get, the closer that I (and) the board’s going to feel that we are meeting the expectations of the public.”

There is no date set yet for the public forum, nor is there a deadline for the completion of the brainstorming of the plan. First, Raper said commissioners need the chance to see what different priorities both staff and residents have.

“We don’t see the commissioners every day … what they may consider important, because that’s what they hear from the public, may be vastly different from what staff feels is important,” he said. “How do we link those things together to make sure the board sees what the staff sees, the staff sees what the board sees, and that there’s agreement there as well?”

The newly-developed strategic plan will be updated when Raper and commissioners work to pass a budget every year. As development comes to Siler City, Raper said he wants to make sure the new plan would be a tool to help guide town staff and governance.

“The overall strategic plan is really designed to be at the board level, and always can include participation from staff and citizens,” Raper said. “That way they (the board) are working together collectively to give direction to staff as to what they consider important and we need to prioritize.”

Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at theeden@chathamnr.com and on Twitter at @HeedenTaylor.

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