The Village of Wellington begins the new year with a new manager and keen eye on a future beyond the current pandemic.
“For now, the challenges presented by COVID-19 in 2020 will remain in 2021, but we are looking beyond the pandemic and starting initiatives that will shape Wellington’s future deep into the decade,” new Village Manager Jim Barnes told the Town-Crier this week.
This includes a wide array of capital projects either nearing completion, underway or in the planning phases.
“Capital projects scheduled to be completed in 2021 include the athletic complex at Wellington High School, the water plant expansion and the water reclamation facility expansion,” Barnes said. “Projects proposed to be undertaken include pathway expansions and improvements on Big Blue Trace, additional improvements at the Town Center, and a whole host of maintenance projects that continue our investment in our infrastructure assets for roadways, surface water management and utilities.”
Barnes noted that the Wellington Village Council reaffirmed and updated existing goals through its workshops with staff last year. The council and staff will continue that practice in 2021, albeit socially distanced and modified due to COVID-19, with a visioning workshop proposed for the spring.
“This effort allows for mindful consideration in the planning, navigating and establishment of long-term future direction organized around four overarching themes: infrastructure, land use, the economy and quality of life,” he said. “This annual effort is a significant undertaking, and our council, staff and the community will all be a part of the process. The village remains fiscally strong and well-positioned for the future. Our council and employees take great pride in serving our community and connecting with our residents, businesses and organizations to provide best-in-class services and a safe environment for all in which to live and work.”
Even as the virus keep people apart, Barnes sees “connections” as the theme for 2021.
“As we see the completion of roadway and pathway projects connecting neighborhoods throughout the village, I am reminded of the many ways we, as public servants, serve as connections to the community — connecting people with services, places and often with other people,” he explained. “From the customer service representatives who answer phone calls at each of our village facilities to the award-winning public works and utilities employees who maintain our roadways and drainage infrastructure, as well as operate and maintain our water treatment plant and water reclamation facility. Our 300-plus full-time employees and more than 50 seasonal and part-time employees are ‘all in, all the time,’ making sure our residents continuously receive the unmatched services and amenities to which they are accustomed.”
Barnes is also proud of new technology in place that “completely rewired” the entire village operations.
“We also leverage technology to provide these connections. This past year, we completed our migration to a new enterprise resource planning system in order to better serve our customers from utility accounts and building permits, to recreation program registration and public records access,” he said. “This streamlines customer service requests and provides another way for residents to connect with the village and get a timely response.”
In many ways, the village also helps connect people to places and each other.
“Our community events attract more than 300,000 people each year [pre-COVID-19]. From our spring events like the Wellington Classic Brewfest, Marchtoberfest and the Bacon & Bourbon Festival to Independence Day festivities and Fall Fest at Village Park, and events honoring service to our nation and community like Memorial Day, Patriots Day and Veterans Day, our events have created places where people meet, have fun and form yearly traditions,” Barnes said. “Our parks maintenance and neighborhood parks employees keep Wellington’s many parks beautiful, safe and state-of-the-art so that families have places to spend time and unwind. Additionally, our partnership with all our private and nonprofit community partners allow us to provide even more services and benefits to our residents.”
This is how the village also serves as a bridge, forming connections among people.
“Our award-winning HYPE program received recognition from the Florida League of Cities. The program, which is part of the Community Services Department, provides services to youth that include after-school activities ranging from informal games and athletics to academic support, tutoring and mentoring,” Barnes said. “That program was just one of the many youth outreach initiatives, which promotes and facilitates real social, cultural and civic connections with the community’s youth year after year.”
Other programs from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and Wellington’s Parks & Recreation Department serve similar purposes.
Barnes noted that 2020 was a challenging year, but one that brought a great deal of innovation.
“It has required us to think a bit differently about how to continue to serve our customers amid COVID-19. We continue to provide our usual services while taking many of our usual offerings to virtual formats,” he said. “From virtual recreation and wellness programs to game nights, student outreach and senior socials, we have reimagined the virtual as well as drive-in/drive-through concepts. We will continue to look at innovative programs and service delivery approaches as we navigate our way through and eventually out of COVID-19.”
Barnes summed up his connections theme when looking at 2021 and beyond.
“We also serve as connections to the future,” he said. “By maintaining smart policies, investing in innovation and infrastructure, engaging in thoughtful planning and implementing forward-thinking budgets, the council and village employees are continuously building upon our past successes and proud traditions to ensure that Wellington remains a community of choice — vibrant, innovative and engaged — for generations to come.”