ELMHURST – City of Elmhurst staff and elected officials gathered Jan. 29 at the Oak Room conference room at Elmhurst Hospital to discuss the city's strategy and vision.
Gregory Kuhn, assistant director of public management and training at Northern Illinois University's Center for Governmental Studies, guided Mayor Steve Morley, aldermen and staff through the first half of the workshop, which involved reflecting on Elmhurst's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in comparison to the last strategic planning process session in June 2015. City Manager Jim Grabowski managed the second half of the workshop, which involved reviewing progress on goals.
Topics of discussion included finances, economic development, emergency services, stormwater and the relationship the city has with the school and park districts.
Alderman Kevin York, chairman of the city's Finance, Council Affairs and Administrative Services Committee, said he believes the Elmhurst City Council has done "a good job" of balancing expenditures with revenue and making "conscious decisions" to use some exceess fund balance to support expenditures in the short term.
Morley said the city's financial health is in "constant threat" because of what the city can't control, but the City Council has made better decisions on handling money.
Economic and community development
Alderman Tina Park said the commuter rail system is a strength, and the developments for a new train station are an opportunity.
Alderman Mike Brennan said Elmhurst's downtown is an opportunity and not a weakness as it had been marked in the 2015 discussion.
"I think a lot of towns would die to have the downtown we have," Brennan said.
Morley said the city is "pretty active and aggressive" with its community development of downtown Elmhurst.
Grabowski said economic development in Elmhurst "will never end."
"We have done more than any other community that I can think of as far as planning for economic development," Grabowski said.
Under the envisioning portion of the workshop, Elmhurst Fire Chief Thomas Freeman responded to his predecessor's thoughts on what the future might hold for Elmhurst's fire services, which included becoming more preventative in its focus and becoming part of an integrated health system.
The rarest thing the Fire Department does is go to fires, Freeman said. He predicts nurses or physician assistants will be taking care of people on medical rescue vehicles and arranging for people to go to doctors' offices or medical centers instead of hospitals.
Elmhurst Police Chief Michael Ruth said the department is seeing a trend of increased domestic violence and weapon offenses and a decrease in residential burglaries compared to five years ago. He said community members "want to hear from someone in authority" about what's going on and what the department is doing about it.
Morley said the city's dealing with stormwater has become a strength, and he thinks the city has received "a lot more" positive press on the issue than in the past.
Relationships with other governmental bodies
Morley raised the issue of the city's relationship with the Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205 Board of Education as an opportunity, a weakness and a threat.
Alderman Mark Mulliner said he envisioned a future where the Elmhurst Park District would be consolidated under the city.
Grabowski said in a phone interview Jan. 30 that aldermen's goals will be organized and presented at a committee of the whole meeting possibly in late February. The goals will be discussed there before heading to an Elmhurst City Council meeting to be ranked. The meetings about the goals will be public, he said.