5 Steps to New Municipal Offices

Having been so critical of the process, I feel the need to offer a detailed, constructive suggestion for how the subcommittee proceed. It’s easy to stand up at a selectboard meeting and be critical, and persuasively argue that $8000 shouldn’t be spent on drawings. The difficult part is backing up that criticism with an alternative that everyone can buy into. I’m going to take a crack at it in this post.

In outline, we need to do five things:

1. agree on the end-in-view, or goals, or outcomes

2. identify all the limitations and barriers we’ll have to work around

3. define solutions that work around the limits and deliver the desired outcomes

4. find out which solutions are favored by key stakeholder groups in town: the selectboard, school board, town and school staff, non-govt organizations such as the Historical Society, Downtown Development Committee, Vital Communities and so forth

5. present the alternatives to the voters in an IRV-style ballot to discern majority sentiment, with a bonding authority incorporated into the balloting

If we do these 5 things, the town can be on its way to resolving the matter of municipal offices in time for next year’s construction season, if construction is part of the preferred solution.

Let’s take it point by point:

1. agree on the end-in-view, or goals, or outcomes

Each outcome needs to be specific and have a date associated with it. There can be multiple goal statements.

Since the main drivers for the current effort are

(a) maint & repair costs on current building are soaring due to rapid ageing of the building systems

(b) the systems are so inefficient they impose significant extra cost especially for heating and cooling

(c) the systems work so poorly staff productivity is significantly hampered,

we have some goals that are easy to state, and we can make some guesses about reasonable dates:

* Reduce annual operational cost of municipal office space by 25% by July 1, 2013 (beginning of the fiscal year 2014)

* Improve work environment of town employees by Oct 1, 2011 (renovating would require short term rental. Let’s do it whatever the solution is)

But there are other outcomes as well that I sense broad agreement on:

* Impact on the grand list should be neutral or positive for the GL of April 1, 2014 (this allows for land swaps, new location property purchase and sale of existing municipal building, etc)

* Bond issue for cost should spread expense among future taxpayer/users; hold current taxpayers harmless by July 1, 2014

* Town and School offices consolidated by July 1, 2013

* Increase public space in municipal office building for meeting, library satellite and other purposes by July 1, 2013

* Increase security for staff by Oct 1, 2011

Then there are a few goals which dictate a particular approach to the solution. There is not widespread agreement on these outcomes, and some are directly in contradiction with each other:

* Preserve existing Municipal Building shell in an adaptive reuse, either as municipal offices or commercial use by July 1, 2014

* Office space should be green in every aspect even if payoff at current prices doesn’t justify expense by July 1, 2014

* Office space should be barebones, least cost alternative by July 1, 2014

So for the first step, we need to develop a list of desired outcomes, and identify ones we can all agree to and which are married to  a particular approach, and therefore, should be identified not as goals, but as strategies.  These belong, then, in the third step.


Step 2: Identify barriers and limits

This is an important task, because there are many things that need to be spotted before we start. Just like the Titanic would have been better off not leaving the dock until they knew where the icebergs were, before we start drawing up strategies for delivering on the goals we should list everything we can about the icebergs in our own way. Sometimes it helps to split these into two groups, organizational barriers and technological barriers, and two classes, organizational limits and technical barriers.

For example

Existing building is on the 100 year flood plain (technical limit, i.e., there’s nothing we can do about it)

Current Municipal Office building is on the Federal Registry (organizational limit, i.e. the town is stuck with this limitation)

WRJ downtown is location targeted by town and state planners (organizational barrier to building at a new location: they would have to be persuaded)

Town & School relationship (organizational barrier: would need to be fixed if joint project were to succeed)

Need 24,000 sq ft of space (technical barrier, i.e., it is the amount of space town operations needs)

…and so on. There will be specific limits that need to be added — for example the SqFt requirements developed back in 2007. This list probably contains around 100 items, in contrast to the goals, which have 3 to 7 statements.

Step 3: Articulate possible solutions and their costs, benefits and drawbacks

Right now there are 5 different strategies on the table in pursuit of goals that are both shared and wildly at odds. Each will address the barriers/limits and deliver on (some) of the articulated goals:



New in Place

New in New Location

Purchase & Refit Existing Location

Each of these needs to be fleshed out, with an analysis of how each would meet the established goals by dealing with the limits/barriers. Since total cost would have a big impact on the ability to deliver the main goal of reducing operating costs, this is the point where the town will incur expense in working up the numbers. However, they don’t need to be worked up to precision at this point; just ballpark.


Step 4: Finding out where the major stakeholders stand

There are important representative bodies, like the Select Board and the School Board, who are tasked with leading the citizenry. The collective buy in of the people’s representatives is important. Also important are the buy in of key non-goverment stakeholder bodies like the Chamber, the PTOs, and outfits like Vital Communities. These organizations are in a position to help lead on the issue and will be critical to the success of a bond issue.

Step 5: Going to the Voters

Finally, with all this homework done, a special town meeting could be called to vote on a bond issue. However, it would be set up as an instant runoff, or IRV type vote, where the voters would rank their preferences. Each preference would also contain language authorizing  a bond issue, and the  rules of the election would be that an option would have to have the support of half the voters. One of the choices would be to continue as is.

I’ve only sketched out this process and haven’t gone into great detail, but I hope I have offered enough to show that it would be the kind of process that would be open and accessible and lead to a decision with widespread support.




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