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Thursday, February 17th, 2011

City hires P.R. help

Consultant will assist Celina officials to better communicate finances

By William Kincaid
CELINA - City officials need to report financial information more often and in a way that makes sense of the whole picture, Robin Elston, a consultant from Celina, told council members.
Elston was hired by the city for $8,700 to help council members and administrators communicate the reasons why the city had a $1.124 million general fund carryover this year and why it needs the recently approved income tax increase.
Celina Mayor Sharon LaRue said Elston was hired "to help the council to communicate and educate the public on what happened."
Elston, of Elston Consulting, spoke to council and key staff individually and during a committee meeting Wednesday night.
"Use a standard financial reporting format that shows unencumbered balances versus year-to-date projections and an estimation of year-end revenue and expenditures versus appropriations and unencumbered carry-over," Elston said during the committee meeting.
Elston recommended regularly communicating the financial situation in a way that concerned citizens can make sense of the data. She also said city officials should communicate funding sources for improvements made through grants and tax increment financing (TIF) funds.
She said the city should create a seven-year plan estimating revenue and expenditures so residents can see how money is intended to be spent. Any changes to the plan should be explained, she said.
The city needs to communicate proactively to the citizens each month and utilize mediums such as the city website or TV station, Elston said.
"Those things can be done very cheaply," she said.
Councilman Mike Sovinski asked what the best way is to communicate on a monthly basis, pointing out the mayor makes reports and city flyers are sent out with utility bills.
Mayor's reports, utility flyers and newspaper articles all reach the same demographic, Elston said. That same demographic may attend a town-hall type meeting.
People age 40 and younger chiefly get their information from websites, often in three paragraphs or less, she said.
"We are an attention deficit disorder society by design now," she said.
"I know we have a website ... truthfully I haven't been on it in a while," Sovinski said.
City auditor Emily Stewart pointed out that council meeting agendas and minutes are available online.
Council minutes are fine, but the city needs to get residents in the habit of obtaining the most up-to-date information - such as the status of a construction project - on the city's website, one that also incorporates short videos.
Councilman Jeff Larmore said the challenge would be putting complex concepts - such as the city budget - in laymen's terms.
Councilwoman Angie King said Facebook could be a great way to combat negativity, but she wouldn't personally trust it as a way to disperse information.
City employee Karen Seibert runs the city's website.
"She can only do so much," LaRue said, adding that Seibert must be given information to publish online.  
The idea of a coordinator or part-time communications director was broached.
Elston said right now the city needs to update its website with a frequently asked question section. In the long term, the site should include videos, she said.
Also, Elston said the roles of city officials - in terms of how information is processed and shared with the public and staff - need defined.
LaRue said Elston will continue working with the city to improve its communications. Her bill will be paid through the general fund.
Celina's website is at
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