Denison hopes to improve the quality of life

Denison is a city that’s showing it’s age, and its not just small laugh lines and a distinguished head of salt and pepper hair. At least that seems to be the perception of residents who were surveyed in a recent citizen survey and through the city’s branding process. It’s definitely a concern of the City Council in recent years, as it has taken steps to address the look of the community.

Last year during a council retreat the council took the step to make it a written goal: “The city of Denison is a community of excellence, with a high quality of life and an attractive urban landscape.”

“Part of having a high quality of life is having an attractive community — a place people want to be in,” said Denison City Manager Robert Hanna in a recent interview. “If they don’t want to be here you’ll never have a high quality of life, so making sure the city’s clean and attractive, I think, is a part of that. We didn’t get to looking the way we look overnight. This has happened over a number of years, and it’s going to take a number of years to change the course we’ve been on.”

That sentiment is perhaps the reason demolishing 100 substandard structures per year for the next three years and implementing minimum property standards are the top two objectives under the goal of having a high quality of life.

Save for a period of uncertainty about the program, the city has implemented the minimum property standards and is in the process of focusing on its second target geographic area.

As for the demolitions, they have been under way for a number of years, but the target of 100 structures may be unreachable for the city with its current funds, Hanna said. The council had hoped to use funds from an accelerated payment schedule for the Levi Strauss building from the Denison Development Foundation to help with demolitions, but ultimately it decided to split the money between demolitions and assistance for low- to moderate-income homeowners who struggle to comply with the minimum property standards.

The city has also previously approved an agreement with Bureau Veritas, a company that would handle much of the paper work and could operate more quickly than city staff to speed the process. However Hanna said, with the limited funds it’s unlikely the city will have a need to utilize the firm.

One thing the city is currently working on to smooth the process is developing a written policy to guide the demolition process.

“It’s going to spell out how we do it, and there’s no more ambiguity,” Hanna said. “We’re going to have a process that’s clearly defined, well written, well communicated.”

As a part of that policy, the city is exploring the possibility of requiring proof of financial responsibility of owners who request a stay from demolition to bring their property up to code. He said one of the council’s concerns is that owners are asking for time and in some cases starting the work, when they lack the resources to complete the necessary improvements. Hanna stressed, however, that that aspect is in its infancy.

Two other objectives of the goal focus on redesigning the city website and utilizing new software to improve building inspections and code enforcement. The new software is already in place and the city website redesign was launched in December.

“Part of having a high quality of life is being able to access your government and having your government be responsive to you when you have a concern, and the website is an opportunity to increase that level of involvement from the citizens and increase that level of responsiveness by the government,” Hanna said.

The city plans to add in the coming months online bill pay for water customers.

Other completed objectives include: “Enhance the public’s awareness and understanding of municipal activity through programs like the Citizens Police Academy, Neighborhood Watch Program and Crime Stoppers” and utilizing the library to offer recreational and informational services through programs, by operating a minimum number of hour, maintaining accreditation, and increasing the collection.

Hanna said, so far much of the effort toward reaching that high quality of life has been on the low-hanging fruit, with the harder tasks to come.

“I think the important thing for people to realize is people have rolled their sleeves up, and they’ve gone to work,” he said. “Come join us. Come help us make this community a place that you want your children to be in, that you want your kids to have kids in and raise. … If we’re going to do that we’ve got some work to do.”