Orange administrator makes case for new hires
Diana Schindler, Orange town administrator.
Diana Schindler Orange town administrator
The Orange armory on East Street is under consideration for closure.
ORANGE — As town officials ramp up to prepare next year’s budget, Town Administrator Diana Schindler has identified some key investments that will pay off in the years ahead.
Here are the highlights of the budgetary and management priorities she shared with selectmen at their last meeting:
Better building maintenance
Schindler said that hiring a facilities manager for town buildings would be “useful and critical.” Ongoing problems with many buildings such as Town Hall, the Armory, the police station and school buildings have cost the town many hundreds of thousands of dollars. These bills would be much lower if problems such as leaky roofs, poor ventilation and mold had been identified and dealt with sooner.
Better management of town buildings will decrease costs for repairs and lower the town’s liability. She cited a shed behind the highway barn that should be demolished, as sheets of metal flying off the structure expose the town to liability.
Review use of town buildings
Schindler also pressed for a townwide review of how existing structures can be best used or whether it makes sense to sell or re-purpose those that aren’t being used efficiently.
“We have 15 buildings, seven cemeteries, nine parks and a variety of other infrastructure ... that’s a lot.” Selectmen approved the development of a committee to review these structures at an earlier meeting.
Also, Schindler said the town is currently renting space without proper leases in buildings such as the Armory. In addition, the rental fees may be less than market rates, which in an interview last fall, Schindler said means the town is essentially subsidizing the businesses operating out of the Armory.
Additional staffing needed
Schindler said that additional support staff are necessary in many departments to ensure efficient delivery of services. She said the lack of sufficient staffing has prevented departments from creating the systems necessary for proper management.
“Much of the anxiety and contention over reporting is due to a lack of systems and a lack of data. This is a major, major problem,” she said, apparently referring to complaints from department managers over the past year about insufficient and inaccurate reports from the town’s financial team.
Without adequate staffing, financial team members “can’t invest half a day necessary to make the system better.” Instead, she said these employees are putting their energy into the constant demands of basic financial services, “every week, every day, they are doing payroll and warrants.”
She said that additional staffing is needed in the treasurer’s office, the assessor’s office as well as in the fire, building and public works departments.
She noted that the town’s economic development goals is dependent on adequate staffing in the building department. She said Building Inspector Brian Gale’s work is “ramping up ... (his) permitting has suffered for that, though he’s doing the best he can.”
More for elders
Schindler questioned whether the Armory is the best space for senior programs housed there. With the town’s growing senior population, she would like to see more elders utilizing a greater variety of programming.
Council on Aging Director Clifford Fournier “has done an amazing job of getting grants, but we’re offering very limited senior programs,” she said.
Schindler supports the COA’s efforts to survey the town’s elders about what programs and services they would like the town to offer.
According to Schindler, selectmen have “divested power into a plethora of boards and commissions, some with operational authority, some with contracting authority.”
This situation creates a management structure “so siloed … one person is needed to pull it together” and take a townwide perspective in making decisions.
The town’s management system “needs to be more centralized to achieve efficiencies and sustainability.” This centralization will help to create more streamlined and consistent policies. Right now, “a lot is done at the department head level … everything is bottom up.”