GOSHEN — Goshen Mayor Jeremy Stutsman’s plan to create a new environmentally-focused department for the city got the green light from City Council members Tuesday evening.
During the meeting, council members approved on second and final reading an ordinance that will create the new Department of Environmental Resilience, which Stutsman had proposed as a way to organize and promote various green initiatives and efficiencies within the city, such as plans for carbon neutrality by 2035 and the establishment of a 45% urban tree canopy by 2045.
Voting for passage of the ordinance Tuesday were council members Julia Gautsche, Julia King, Jim McKee, Adam Scharf and Brett Weddell. Voting against passage were council members Doug Nisley and Mike Orgill. The ordinance had been approved on first reading during the council’s Aug. 20 meeting.
As approved, the new environmental department will initially consist of two full-time employees who will be shifted from their current positions at the Goshen Parks Department. Those positions include Goshen City Forester Aaron Sawatsky-Kingsley, who will serve as director of the new department and oversee all of its activities and programs, and his administrative assistant.
In addition, the approved plan also calls for the creation of a new employment position specifically for the department, the responsibilities of which will include assisting the city forester with his new workload and existing forestry duties, offering environment-related assistance to other departments, and taking on the task of being the city’s first in-house grant writer.
“Goshen has a long, long history of leading, especially when it matters. We don’t tend to wait for other communities so that we can jump in. We’re usually the community — when it comes to these larger topics and topics that aren’t always fun to talk about — we tend to be the community that allows others to jump in behind us,” Stutsman said prior to the ordinance’s passage Tuesday. “I want to make sure that we keep going that way, especially in dealing with our environment. It’s incredibly important to me, to my kids, and I just can’t imagine that we won’t see in the first two to three years some significant savings to the city budget and staff time with the grant writer.”
As described in the approved ordinance, the primary functions of the new Department of Environmental Resilience will include the following:
• Maintain, preserve, manage and enhance Goshen’s urban forest through policy and practice in order to achieve 45% urban tree canopy coverage across the city by 2045;
• Educate the city of Goshen administration and the public relative to natural resource protection, opportunities for energy consumption efficiencies, waste reduction and other green initiatives;
• Implement the city’s Environmental Action Plan as outlined in Resolution 2019-19 and elements of the city of Goshen’s 10-Year Comprehensive Plan related to environmental resilience such as forestry, stormwater management, energy efficiency, land use, etc., by means of incentives and/or reductions in regulatory burdens; and coordinate activities with other public and private organizations;
• Provide support and coordination to city departments, boards and commissions as they undertake projects that affect the city’s assets;
• Propose goals for annual progress for the city in the areas of forestry and other areas related to environmental resilience; and
• Perform other functions reasonably related to environmental resilience,
In addition, the approved ordinance also includes a subsection, added via amendment Tuesday, stating that the new department shall not have the authority to provide oversight, site review or regulations on any privately developed residential or commercial project or business entity unless specifically requested by the property owner. Concerns about added environmental regulations had been a primary sticking point for several members of the council when considering the new department’s establishment.
“We’ve stated over and over again, the mayor has, that this is not to create any regulatory processes for private property owners, business owners, whatnot,” Councilman Weddell, who introduced the amendment Tuesday, said of his motivations for including the subsection. “My goal for this department is to not only save the city money, but also then to explore environmentally sound practices that then the private sector can look at and go, well, the city’s already done it, that didn’t work, that did work, then they can go ahead and implement those. So it gives them that opportunity. Now, if we’re truly not in favor of creating more regulatory conditions, then this shouldn’t be any big issue.”
COST TO IMPLEMENT
Stutsman said the current salaries of Sawatsky-Kingsley and his administrative assistant, their benefits, and all budget lines currently connected to the city’s forestry program will need to be transferred over to the new department, the total of which equals about $374,000.
Additional funding will also need to be provided for the new grant-writer position, which will equate to about another $80,000 in annual salary and benefits, Stutsman explained. He also said he would like to earmark another $70,000 just to help get the department up and running, allow for the hiring of a few consultants if needed, and add a little bit more robustness to the forestry program.
All in all, Stutsman said total cost to implement the new department as proposed should fall at right around $524,000.