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01_Improving Efficiency and Confidence in Local Government_Final

01_Improving Efficiency and Confidence in Local Government_Final

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Published by: trc on Jun 25, 2012
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Thomas R. Creamer, SelectmanTown of Sturbridge21 June 2012
Section 4-2, paragraph c, “Powers and Duties in General” of the Sturbridge Town Charter statesthat
“The executive powers of the town shall be vested in the Board of Selectmen, and may be exercised by them jointly or through the town agencies and offices under their general supervision and control. The Board of Selectmen shall cause the laws and orders for the government of the town to be enforced, and shall cause a record of all their official acts to be kept...” 
.As the Executive Branch exercising
“its powers jointly or through the town agencies and offices under its general supervision and control” 
, the Board of Selectmen have an inherent obligationto ensure that the taxpayers of the Town of Sturbridge are provided with the best services in themost efficient, productive, and professional manner possible. To that end, the Board ofSelectmen has a responsibility to ensure a top-down structure of policy development andimplementation that provides our various departments and employees with the support,resources (both human and technological), professional development, management, andenvironment (i.e. working conditions) that contribute to the highest level of professional serviceand productivity in the most cost-effective manner.To ensure a level of government efficiency that recognizes and achieves the highest return oninvestment to our taxpayers, we must be sure our fundamental approach recognizes that thebusiness of government is accountable to its stockholders (i.e. taxpayers). As such, it mustmanage, invest, and spend funds collected from same in a manner respectful to, and reflectiveof, the expectations and sacrifices of those who shoulder our community’s tax-burden. Specificto that point, a comprehensive study titled “Defining and measuring productivity in the publicsector,” outlines three core rationales supporting the position that public sector productivity iscrucial to the role of government:
“1) the public sector is a major employer,2) the public sector is a major provider of services in the economy, which in turn impact the financial flexibility of residents and the cost of doing business within our community, and 3) the public sector is a consumer of tax resources” 
.As such, changes in public sector productivity may have significant implications for theeconomic stability and vitality of a community. In recognition of such, a 2007 wide-ranginggovernment productivity analysis conducted on behalf of the State of New York identified that
“Research and local initiatives have shown that for many functions, local services can be provided more efficiently or effectively on a broader scale” 
Surely, during times of economic uncertainty there is greater focus on, and skepticism ofgovernment productivity and efficiency. As residents working in the private sector experiencewage freezes or cuts, benefit reductions, increased contributions to health care,underemployment and/or unemployment, coupled with the increasing cost of government each
3year, there arises a greater awareness of, and/or connection to an often echoed belief – unfounded or otherwise - that government is filled with “fat” at the expense of strugglingtaxpayers. Undoubtedly, recent excesses highlighted at the federal level within the GeneralServices Administration (GSA) and those at the State level such as the “Big Dig”, which hasbeen called “America’s greatest highway robbery” do little to dispel any assertions to thecontrary that government is inefficient. Though clearly these excesses are well beyond thescope of any irregularities one might witness at the local level – were such even to exist, there isalways skepticism in terms of local government’s efficiency and effectiveness in managingtaxpayer funds. Such a position is clearly supported by grass roots organizations emergingacross the country such as the Government Efficiency Movement (GEM), which “…strives toidentify and implement new approaches to municipal cost-cutting by rethinking the nature oflocal government structures”.Corroborating this lack of faith as it relates to local government’s management of taxpayer fundshas been glaringly evident this past year in Sturbridge, as witnessed by the effort to repeal theCommunity Preservation Act, the Citizen Petition to level-fund the fiscal year 2013 budget,followed by line-item challenges to the overall budget and our Town Meeting Warrant. Ratherthan review these citizen challenges with any level of cynicism, we should welcome the fact thatthey exist and embrace the idea of responding to them with a measurable means of quantifyingthe services we offer as a community. It is only through such an approach that we can trulyunderstand our “net worth” as a governing entity and improve upon the business of governing.Not only however, are we challenged with a growing level of cynicism among residents, butequally, albeit somewhat differently, it exists among those who govern. Perhaps morechallenging an obstacle than anything else, the lack of support that will manifest, and in factdoes exist among colleagues - both elected and appointed, is an element that cannot beoverlooked. Long-term relationships, emotional ties to particular departments or programs,along with the comfort-level that accompanies the “status-quo” will serve to hinder and disputethe very idea of an independent review. These “impediments” however, do more to substantiatethe need for a thorough review of our practices and productivity than they do to diminish such.Despite any views to the contrary – and there is little doubt that many will be provided – onecannot escape the simple fact that we as an entity have a moral, ethical, and professionalresponsibility to the stockholders of this community – the taxpayers – to ensure that we areproviding them the very best return on their investment.
Productivity/Efficiency Measurements
In consideration of our responsibility to the public, one must question the benchmark or systemswe currently employ to demonstrate a return-on-investment for residents. More directly, do we infact even have a means by which we are able to demonstrate our overall effectiveness andefficiency to residents? If so, what is it? If not, then why?Further challenging the manner by which we justify services we provide our customers at thelocal level (the taxpayers who fund all operations), is the lack of a definitive cost-basedaccounting approach with respect to the value our tax dollars provide in terms of a cost-per-resident ratio. For example, the Burgess Elementary School budget for FY13 is $9,095,756. The

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