Government funds not the only answer for community initiatives

As a rule, city governments’ interactions with community initiatives often come down to a question of money.

Will the city fund an idea? Does the city have funds available?

There is nothing wrong with that.

But when a city has a set budget to keep, great ideas occasionally fall by the wayside simply because the money isn’t there or is needed elsewhere. There’s no plan for what to do if the city says no.

So lately it?s been impressive to see the amount of self-funded community initiatives come through commission meetings.

The Caring Hands Humane Society presented a plan to the commission last week to neuter and release the city’s feral cat population. Since cats are territorial, they’d keep outside cats from coming in and breeding. Fewer kittens would be born, and the number of cats taken to Caring Hands, about 1,000 a year, would drop. Organizers said the idea has seen success other places. It could be a slick answer to a problem.

And now it’s going to happen, in large part because the folks at Caring Hands have funding plans for the program set up. They only needed the commission to make a few changes to ordinances to make the idea a reality, which the city gave a preliminary blessing to do.

The ReNewton Bicycle Initiative provides another example of the importance of plans.

Last week the group presented a comprehensive engineering plan to the city to extend bike paths in Newton and to create bike lanes.

The engineering plans on the comprehensive plan cost around $50,000, according to Lester Limon, who heads the initiative up. Initially, the group asked the city for the funds, which proved to be a non-starter. So the group worked with the Healthy Harvey Coalition and found a grant to fund the study. The study enables the program to be eligible for future grants.

The group will look for significant contributions from the city. Still the initiative bringing in its own funding and having a plan that allows the city to implement it a bit at a time makes the idea of a more bike-friendly Newton much more feasible than if organizers asked the city to foot the whole of the bill.

Finally, some initiatives like relaxing downtown sidewalk rules to allow outdoor restaurant seating and merchandise on the sidewalk take no city funding at all.

It just took people talking to each other, organizing a draft of what they wanted to get done, and making their case to the city. The commission sounded amiable at a workshop to changing city ordinances to allow the idea to move forward.

Newton’s downtown took a step toward growing even busier. More people downtown means more dollars being spent locally, so that’s a good thing.

During the workshop where the commission saw presentations on bikes and sidewalks, a quote by Coach Paul ?Bear? Bryant showed up in a slide show.

?Have a plan. Follow the plan, and you?ll be surprised how successful you can be. Most people don?t have a plan. That?s why it?s easy to beat most folks.?

That seems to ring true for most community initiatives. So many good ideas get beat because of a lack of a plan.

So, kudos to the plan makers and the preparers who look for ways to get things done without relying solely on the city, and kudos to the commissioners for recognizing the good ideas.

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