Communication, affordability among objectives for town officials
April 14, 2011By Adam White Observer staff
Choosing a “road map” over a “punch list,” the Williston Selectboard established a list of six top goals and objectives during its annual retreat at the Marriott Courtyard Hotel on April 4.
The Board identified its top priorities with the help of input from several other town officials, and guidance from retreat facilitator Tony Lamb. The retreat began at 3 p.m. with opening remarks and a team-building exercise, and concluded nearly six hours later after a list of six key objectives was finalized through discussion.
“Do we want a punch list of key priorities, that we can check off when they are done?” Board member Chris Roy asked during the proceedings. “Or do we want more of a road map that will guide us as we move forward?”
The resulting list seemed to adhere more to Roy’s latter description, as it outlined general areas of concern but not specific actions or solutions within those areas. The Board’s six objectives are a sustainable budget, implementation of and progress reporting on the town plan, continued attention to storm water management, increased assessment of the town’s changing demographics, better communication to and from townspeople and an underlying attention to affordability in all decisions and considerations.
The six objectives were not prioritized within the list according to importance relative to one another. Other potential inclusions such as infrastructure, tax abatements and regionalization of services were left off the final list after it was decided that they are addressed in some manner under the six headings that did make the cut.
Infrastructure and tax abatements were deemed to fall under the budget objective. Police chief Roy Nelson suggested breaking individual infrastructure issues down into “those that are addressed under the current system and those that aren’t,” and later said that regionalization is best accomplished incrementally rather than by an over-arching plan.
“It’s got to have that small-growth process, and that is what we’re into right now,” Nelson said.
The town plan portion of the objectives provoked a lengthy discussion, in which Board member Jeff Fehrs warned that one danger of a straightforward implementation plan would be that it “might produce a staff resource issue.” Planning director Ken Belliveau pointed out that a generalized schedule for implementation is already laid out in Chapter 13 of the town plan, and library director Marti Fiske proposed setting up a joint meeting between the Selectboard and Planning Commission to review progress against that schedule.
Storm water management was a timely issue, given Tuesday’s emergency closing of North Williston Rd. due to flooding. Town Manager Rick McGuire called it a “multi-department issue” on which the town is spending “hundreds of thousands of dollars.” McGuire said that flow restoration plans are already under way, and that a financial study due to be completed by July 1 will address a utility concept and loan fund pertaining to the issue.
The topic of changing demographics in Williston was highlighted by the fact that families of WCS students speak more than 30 different languages and dialects, according to Cid Gause, WCS administrative assistant. The Board outlined a three-part approach to the issue: understanding the current demographics of the town, identifying the needs of those different demographics and exploring the impact any Board decisions would have on them.
The key goals within the Board’s communication objective are to implement different modes, particularly of new media, in order to “increase or facilitate public input” in the words of Roy. Michaud recommended exploring the use of high school or college interns, whom he said “can communicate in this high-tech world.”
Affordability for the town and residents was the final objective added to the list, given that it would conceivably be a consideration in every decision and action by the Board. Fehrs was the single biggest advocate for its exclusivity from other economic concerns, calling it “a good reminder to have, in everything we do.”
“The goals we come up with need to pass muster from two sides: our own, and the other people looking at them,” Fehrs said.
Though Roy called the affordability goal “more aspirational than the others,” fellow Board member Debbie Ingram echoed Fehrs’ sentiments regarding its significance.
“It is a signal to the citizens of this town that this is an important thing for us to be considering,” Ingram said.