Gainesville City Council established five strategic priorities during its annual retreat Friday that will help guide its budgetary and planning decisions for the 2015 fiscal year and beyond.

“It will not only help us with this budget year, but the coming budget years, as well,” City Manager Kip Padgett said. “A lot of those strategic goals and values will carry over.”

After working through its vision and mission for serving the residents of Gainesville, the council identified five critical areas of focus that it would like implemented among its many departments: improving infrastructure and transportation; facilitating economic development; modernizing internal operations and generating better revenues; upgrading parks and leisure services; and boosting overall quality of life.

In previous years, department heads would come to the council with their own budget requests and goals for the coming year. But that model was shaken up this time.

“This year was different because we actually brought in a facilitator who helped the council come up with what they thought were the important issues facing the city in the upcoming year,” Gainesville spokeswoman Catiel Felts said.

Walt McBride, a governmental trainer and educator from the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government, served as the facilitator for the council retreat at the Featherbone Communiversity.

McBride directed council members and staff through a series of exercises designed to identify big-picture goals and then narrow those interests to tangible priorities.

“It’s a really interesting time to go back and think about how we go forward,” McBride said.

Council members and staff spent the first part of the retreat acknowledging their values as leaders in the community. Building trust, remaining accountable and improving communication between government and residents were among the many principles identified.

Council members and staff also were asked to reflect on what it means to be a public servant. Showing leadership and stewardship were key, many said.

But they also recognized that balancing the interests of the many with the concerns of the few could sometimes create conflict among the many values they share. McBride noted four public values that city government must balance in its service to all residents: liberty, community, prosperity and equality.

“We can see certain ideologies reflected here,” McBride said.

The council and staff said the retreat helped organize everyone and set the stage for coming budget negotiations.

“It got us all on the same page,” Councilman Bob Hamrick said.

For Sam Couvillon, newest member of the council, the retreat revealed how the local government comes to a consensus and finds common ground on the issues facing residents.

“When looking at the issues facing the city from the outside, a lot of times you just think about it in black and white …” he said. But things aren’t “so cut and dry.”

Each strategic priority established came with a long list of “action items” that council members and staff said they would like addressed in the near future.

Infrastructure and transportation. Improving and expanding infrastructure, particularly with regard to sewer and water capacity, is a huge need, council members said. Doing so will facilitate new growth and development, and help to recruit businesses to the city.

Mayor Danny Dunagan said it is imperative to implement the recommendations of a recently conducted traffic and transportation plan. Other goals include widening Green Street, repairing sidewalks and convincing Hall County to increase funds for road improvements in the city.

Economic development. The council unanimously agreed that spurring new growth is critical for several reasons: expanding the tax base, developing new industries and generating resources for education.

Hamrick said he would like to see Gainesville become a “regional hub” for businesses and industries, such as the medical and technology sectors.

“I think we ought to capitalize on our strengths,” Councilman George Wangemann said.

Internal operations and revenues. Spearheaded by Administrative Services Director Melody Marlowe, the council agreed that updating its internal operations systems, exploring efficiencies and finding ways to reduce costs are essential to maintaining the city’s fiscal health.

“We have some operations I think we can consolidate,” Hamrick said.

Moreover, recruitment, marketing and employee retention are all areas of focus. Council members hope these goals can help buttress revenues, while also acknowledging the need to explore new sources of income.

“The revenues are doing a lot better,” Padgett said. “We just hope that trend continues.”

Parks and leisure services. Providing green spaces and fitness centers are necessary to maintain the kind of live, work, play community that the City Council wants to promote.

To advance this cause, council members suggested building a new youth sports complex, better using Lake Lanier as an economic draw and funding parks maintenance at high levels.

Moreover, caring for senior and disabled residents remains a high priority of the council. Funding the Gainesville-Hall Community Service Center, which manages the Meals on Wheels program and Senior Life Center, is an important issue for Councilwoman Myrtle Figueras.

Quality of life. A kind of catchall for improving the everyday lives of residents, council and staff roundly agreed that prioritizing quality of life issues is paramount for the continued health, growth and success of Gainesville.

Whether improving downtown streetscapes, beautifying Interstate 985 exits or promoting home ownership, council and staff said improving the quality of life for all residents throughout the city was perhaps the single most important aspect of their jobs. “We’re here to provide a better community,” Couvillon said.

Quality of life issues impact other budget priorities, too, including public safety and tourism.

“So that’s sort of what we’re all about,” Wangemann said.