The La Grande City Council met to discuss its goals on Tuesday for the first night of a two-night meeting.

The council lays out its goals for the upcoming year during the annual retreat. The councilors submit their own lists of what they’d like to see happen, and the proposed goals are compiled, discussed and eventually prioritized.

The first part of the meeting consisted of a discussion about what to do with the $500,000 surplus the city did not expect to have in the annual audit recently completed for the City of La Grande.

“We have an opportunity to do things we haven’t been able to do in the past,” said Mayor Steve Clements.

The retreat was a work session and no decisions were made, but ideas were passed along to be considered.

The “severely understaffed” library was considered as a possible recipient of the excess money.

City Manager Robert Strope said the city has had to cut five full-time employees since 2008, and it has gained only one back. He proposed the staffing levels of the city should be a consideration for this year’s budget.

Having an excess of funds does not necessarily mean employees will be hired. The likeliest thing to happen with the money is to go toward a one or more one-time projects.

The councilors also discussed the economic development strategy for 2019. It has been a goal every year, and will continue to be. The council briefly talked about its vision of what the city should look like in 5 to 20 years from now.

Councilor Nicole Howard asked whether the city should develop a brand for La Grande, giving the example of Leavenworth, Washington, a Bavarian-styled village in the Cascade Mountains. Howard said she was in no way asking for La Grande to become another Leavenworth, but the city could follow that example and develop a unique brand.

Newly appointed councilor Jim Whitbeck said it’d behoove the council to do something in the way of branding — otherwise, he said, they’re just “winging it.”

Clements said if the council wanted something clear, it must prioritize goals.

See complete story in Wednesday's Observer