Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Time for change. REAL CHANGE


Last month, we published several items on the deplorable record of our elected officials for stewardship of both municipal and school buildings.  We asked what Brunswick would be like if ALL the buildings in town were cared for with the same lack of responsibility and accountability.

Our circumstances result from two realities as we see it.  First is the truism expressed above.  Second is the fact that town officials have the power, via the adjustable rate property tax, to compel funds from us with the force of law to pay for their mistakes, and lack of responsibility for the dilgent care of the assets we pay for and entrust to their use.

Clearly something has to change, or the sorry approach to this facet of their responsibilities will continue ad infinitum.

Accordingly, we will be submitting the following message to the Town Council shortly.  We’ll include some attachments, and it may be edited slightly from the version below.  But you can get the idea from what follows.  It will be interesting to see if they even bother to take the issue up for discussion; we aren’t hopeful in that regard.  If they do, it should be even more interesting to see how they dance around it and artfully dodge the root causes.  No doubt many memorable quotes for the ages will ensue.


Town Officials:

The Town Council is currently deliberating the issue of a referendum to borrow $28 million to build a locally funded school to replace Coffin Elementary. A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for February 22nd. I have no doubt that if things proceed as in the past, the hearing will be dominated by school advocates who believe spending such sums is 'for the children;' the Council will vote overwhelmingly to approve the referendum going to ballot, and the town will overwhelmingly approve the ballot question in a very low turn out election.

It doesn't take much knowledge of town history and current circumstances to expect that close on the heels of this project will be replacement of our Junior High School at even greater cost, with hopes that the state will contribute a good deal of the funding. But if the state demurs, we'll be faced with another one of those 'tough decisions' in which we are 'left with no choice' but to fund JHS replacement on our own.

I write here to implore you to declare “ALL STOP” before proceeding on ANY school construction (or renovation) projects. The reason is that Brunswick has a structural governance problem when it comes to stewardship of municipal capital assets, and unless this deficiency is remedied with a new and robust commitment to responsibility and accountability for these assets, the same periodic crises will continue to arise, confront sitting councilors, and stun unsuspecting residents with never-ending and unaffordable increases in property taxes.

I've been a resident of Brunswick for nearly 20 years. In that time, the town's record for diligent stewardship of building assets, both municipal and school department, has been decidedly undistinguished to say the least. Concern for taxpayers and the burdens placed upon them has been largely non-existent. Brunswick's tax rate is up 35% in ten years; spending is up $11 million per year in the same time frame.

You don't have to dig very deep to find very troubling examples of school and municipal disregard for maintaining buildings in a state of good repair and prioritizing their preservation. The School Department in particular behaves as if they can have their way with local and state taxpayers no matter how poorly they manage their capital assets, and history proves them right. When the base closed, they had a chance to eliminate all temporary classrooms, but instead decided to rid themselves of much loved school buildings (Longfellow & Hawthorne).

The worst examples of this situation are troubling and shameful. In the last several years, there have been reports of broken toilets in the schools going unrepaired. In the recent presentation by Lyndon Keck of PDT, mention was made of non-functioning fire alarms. Why does it take an architect's review to discover this, and how could School Administration allow these problems to exist?

I have never seen any evidence that either the municipal or school side of our local government has a single point of responsibility for the condition and maintenance of buildings assigned to them. This cannot continue; it clearly is a recipe for failure, building decline, poor decision making, and repeated tear down and new construction. Buildings are seen as dispensable and easily replaced. Priorities are non-existent. A central Fire Station more than a century old continues in use while other buildings are replaced at less than half that age.

Accordingly, I propose that the Town Council enact a policy that clearly identifies a single point of responsibility for monitoring, maintaining, and reporting on the condition of all Brunswick capital assets. This reporting should take place publicly at least twice a year, and should include a detailed listing of all required repairs, estimated costs, and how long the repairs will take.

I suggest that the Assistant Town Manager be assigned this responsibility. He seems the perfect choice, since his position is relatively new. Further, as a direct report to the Town Manager, his efforts would receive the high visibility and careful guidance we should expect.

I look forward to a lively council discussion of this proposal. Perhaps the council will deem the subject important enough, and never-ending, to appoint a related Task Force for oversight.

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