Official Minute: Merrill- a Good Community
By City Administrator Dave Johnson
The definition of what constitutes a “good community” will vary from person to person, but factors such as safety, access to goods and services, a sense of belonging, predictability, and a well-defined organizational structure are generally considered to be key components. While it is virtually impossible to create the ideal community with the capability to satisfy the needs and desires of all residents, a community should strive to meet the needs and desires of the greatest possible number of its residents – that is, to provide the greatest good for the greatest number.
As an element of a “good community” safety is paramount. This includes safety from crime, as well as from fire, medical emergencies, pollution, excessive and congested traffic, overcrowding and other environmental factors. Merrill is a safe city, we have few serious crimes and a professional dedicated police force to enforce our laws. We are fortunate to have a career fire/EMS department where each firefighter is also a paramedic. Our response time to any fire or medical emergency is faster than that of volunteer or paid-on-call departments in other communities. Merrill residents are not placed at risk by air or water pollution, excessive traffic, overcrowding, or blighted neighborhoods.
Citizen access to goods and services is likewise of fundamental importance for a good community. We have choices for food goods that will only improve with the opening of Golden Harvest. While certain other goods shopping in Merrill is limited we are close to shopping opportunities in nearby Wausau. Having lived in two large cities where I had to drive for half an hour or more through heavy city traffic to shop I find having to drive to Wausau for certain items much easier and safer.
Merrill residents are fortunate in the services available to them, both those provided by private businesses and those provided by city government. On the private business side we have good medical/dental service options and a multitude of service providers for resident and business customers.
On the public services side, beyond Police and Fire/EMS, the City provides
- Street/curb/sidewalk/parking lot maintenance
- Snow removal
- Alley maintenance
- Street sweeping
- Storm sewers
- Sanitary sewers
- Potable water
- Wastewater treatment
- Garbage collection/recycling
- Engineering services
- Parks and City Forest with a variety of amenities
- Recreation programs
- Enrichment Center with programs
- Expo Hall
- Festival Grounds
- Transit Service (Merrill-Go-Round)
- Building inspection/Planning/Zoning
- Local Govt. Administration
- Municipal Court
- Voting administration
- Public education through MAPS
The City offers a variety of rental venues for family, organization, or business events – the Smith Center at the MARC, the Expo Hall at the Festival Grounds, the Agra Pavilion at the River Bend Trail trailhead, and shelters in Stange, Kitchenette, Riverside, and Ott’s Park.
A “Good Community” has a sense of belonging that can only be established by interaction within the community. Building and maintaining meaningful relationships between citizens contributes to an overall sense of well-being. This sense of belonging can also come from a communal purpose. Sharing values and goals with others, whether political, religious or philosophical, bind people together toward a common goal and instill a sense of community. Our many churches, clubs, and civic organizations all contribute to this sense of belonging.
Another element of a good community is predictability, meaning community members are familiar and comfortable with life in the community and with their day-to-day relationships with others in the community. Merrill generally has this predictability. Coupled with this predictability are certain expectations for infrastructure that is reliable, maintained and updated, as well as cleanliness, not just for aesthetics but for public health.
Our city has the requisite well-defined organizational structure with a “Strong Council” form of government. Decision-making authority lies with the Common Council with the Mayor having veto authority that can be over-ridden by the Council. We have a City Administrator responsible for the day-to-day operations of the City and dedicated Department Heads responsible for their respective Departments.
While an organizational structure should incorporate leadership that is accountable for the community’s safety and resource needs, it should also help provide each resident with a meaningful social role, that is opportunities to participate. It is up to the individual to avail themselves of these opportunities. Citizens can vote, attend Council and Committee meetings, give feedback during public comment periods, contact the Mayor, Aldermen, City Administrator, and Department Heads to express their opinion or ask questions, volunteer for Committees with citizen members, and run for local public office.
There are many things that Merrill has that I am thankful for. Merrill does not have other things that I am likewise thankful for. We do not have water and air pollution, a high serious crime rate, overcrowding, congested traffic, blighted and abandoned neighborhoods. Merrill is a “good community”.
The Official Minute is a new weekly online feature consisting of columns written and submitted by local officials, on news and happenings from within their respective departments and agencies, as well as tips and key information to keep the public informed. We would like to thank the following participants; Merrill Police Chief Corey Bennett, Southern Lincoln County DNR Conservation Warden Curt Butler, Merrill City Administrator Dave Johnson, Lincoln County Clerk Chris Marlowe, Merrill Area Housing Authority Executive Director Paul Russell, Merrill Area Public Schools Superintendent Dr. John Sample and Lincoln County Sheriff Ken Schneider.