February 25, 2023
On Friday, February 17th, City Council President Terry Weld and City Manager Stephanie Hirsch led a “State of the City” for the city of Eau Claire. The “State of the City” highlighted both what the city has done in the past year, and what this year might hold including accomplishments, problems, and solutions.
Busy Year for Construction
The year 2022 saw construction all across the city. There was a lot of construction for outdoor spaces including the active aging area in McDonough Park, along with construction at Boyd Park, Princeton Park, and Newwell Park. The city is also continuing its construction of Cannery Park which will provide activities during both the summer and winter months.
On the residential and business side, construction continues for P&R, Block 7, and the new Transit Transfer Center. The new Transit Transfer Center, with affordable housing options, is scheduled to be in full operation in 2024. Finishing construction, the new Children’s museum and L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library reopened their doors. This rides off of the record net construction the city saw last year. The year 2022 saw record growth, with a $452,141,269 total annual construction valuation.
There have also been changes in the last year with new and old faces. Three new people, Charlie Johnson, Larry Mboga, and Joshua Miller, were elected to the city council, and many others in the city government moved into new roles. This time of transition will continue into this year, as City Council President Terry Weld is not seeking reelection this April.
The City of Eau Claire also faced many challenging issues this past year, from how to use ARPA funds, to if the city should have Niagara Bottling build in the area. Many of these “Gnarly Challenges” had different values and concerns pitted against each other. In the case of Niagara Bottling for example, which eventually decided not to build, there were competing values of economic growth and environmental concerns.
One of the biggest challenges facing the city is the issue of housing. Both the cost of rent and a house have increased more than a household salary, making it important to focus on building housing that is affordable. This challenge of housing is expected to get worse, as many pandemic programs, such as Wisconsin Emergency Rental Assistance (WERA), are ending enrollment and stopping their additional help.
Along with working on more affordable housing, the Eau Claire police are also working on being able to better respond to incidents involving those unhoused. The police force has worked on training that focuses on making sure everyone is treated with dignity.
A second “Gnarly Challenge” facing the city is fiscal stability. Even going all the way back to 1995, the then City Manager Don T. Norrell warned that revenue was not growing at the same rate as operating costs. Between 2010 and now, Police calls, square miles, and residential streets have all increased in Eau Claire, while the shared revenue from the state has decreased. There are few options the city can take to increase funding, but the city is starting to think about exploring a vehicle registration tax also known as a “wheel tax”. The lack of funding has pushed several projects on hold, such as adding a new payroll system. It has also made it harder to bring in trained staff to deal with backlogs, such as building inspections.
One approach the City of Eau Claire has to make better decisions is the EauStat Organizational Learning Process. EauStat is a team of analysts and team managers that work throughout the city departments to get a better understanding of what is going on in the city. The purpose is to help build consensus to speed up important decision-making processes, as well as create the information into easy-to-read graphs that are more accessible.
Other goals, of the city, include working on strengthening equity, and inclusion efforts for everyone in the city. Currently, resident satisfaction continues to be high, but everyone in the city is working to make Eau Claire an even better place for all those who live there.
Visuals: 2023 State of the City address (Eggs & Issues, City of Eau Claire)
Eau Claire city leaders reflect on the ‘State of the City’ (WEAU 13 News)
Eau Claire leaders express optimism for state aid boost, but still pursuing other revenue options (Leader-Telegram $)
Weld Among Chamber of Commerce Award Winners (Volume One)
Posted by Emily Johnston Governmental Affairs Intern