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She’s got a little list with big ideas for Orange

Town administrator Diana Schindler sees bright future

ORANGE — There’s little risk that Orange Town Administrator Diana Schindler will count herself among those who are bored with their job.

In a town that has struggled to pay its bills, has no streetlights, and too little staff to meet the demand for public services, there’s plenty for her to do as she works to get Orange back on track.

And given that money or lack of it has been the lion’s share of the town’s problems, it comes as no surprise that the priority list Schindler has put together after four months on the job focuses on the green stuff — bringing more of it intwo town, and spending it more efficiently and thoughtfully.

Despite Orange’s challenges in recent years, Schindler sees a bright future, and seeks to “infuse a sense of optimism” in funders, residents, employees and volunteers.

“Orange is on the cusp of so much opportunity,” she said in a recent interview. Schindler sees the natural resources and beauty of the area, established businesses, public events and civic engagement as assets the town can use to attract new business and promote development.

She said the selectmen’s decision to hire a community development director is critical to bringing in more money through grants and new development. Selectmen made an offer to Kevin Kennedy and hope to hear by the end of the week whether he accepts the position.

After Kennedy settles in, Schindler said, he will be able to write new grants for next fiscal year. Some of these opportunities may involve matching funds. With little surplus, the town has shied away from matching grants in the past. But Schindler cautioned residents to keep an open mind. “We can’t afford to say ‘no’ to anything right now,” said.

To attract new businesses, she said Orange needs to invest in the downtown area, upgrading storefronts, turning on streetlights and increasing a sense of safety.

According to Schindler, business owners have been asking for increased police, but the Police Department remains understaffed. To protect businesses and residents, Schindler considers increasing capacity of the Police Department to be a major priority.

Spending more efficiently

Through a state-wide Community Innovations grant, Schindler has been working with the Collins Center at UMass/Boston and Chief Robert Haigh to analyze how the police department can make the best use of available town funds. Orange is one of 22 communities participating in the program.

Schindler and Haigh concluded that Orange would be better served by hiring another officer, rather than by paying staff to cover open shifts by working overtime. Schindler said that’s because overtime pay is more expensive than regular pay. In addition, officers working double shifts can easily burn out, and don’t have time at the end of their first shift to complete reports that are vital to investigations, court cases and record-keeping.

Eventually, the project will help Schindler analyze the efficiency of all municipal services. With the Center consultant, she is now looking at how to combine resources in the cemetery, water, waste management and highway departments.

In many towns, these services are often grouped together in a single public works department, but they were set up separately in Orange. The separate management structures of water and sewer departments pose an additional challenge to consolidation.

While town employees often work together and share equipment, Schindler said formalizing such collaboration among all these departments would be a big step toward efficient public services.

She added another Community Innovations grant will install software so residents online and through mobile devices can report and track the resolution of problems, such as broken sidewalks. The program will help employees set and meet goals around fixing these problems in a timely way, increasing accountability of town services.

Schindler said she wants to work more closely with both the elementary and regional school systems to increase collaboration and efficiencies. Right now, the schools pay contractors to mow lawns and plow parking lots. But if the town performed these services, that might lower school assessments.

Schindler is also working on a more inclusive budgeting process. She said getting more input from more people earlier in the year will ensure public funds are spent in a way that reflects a more collective vision of town priorities.

In the face of declining state aid, she said town employees have gotten very good at making do with insufficient resources.

In the past, managers pitched their department budgets to town officials. That often meant squeakier wheels got more grease while other needs went unmet.

“I would like to see us develop a more holistic budget that reflects what we all identify as the town’s needs and priorities.”

She is working with selectmen and the Finance Committee on a new budget process that will start with an identification of needs and priorities. Department heads will be brought in sooner to help craft that vision, and determine how much is required to operate key services.

Public meetings will solicit resident input and “educate the citizenry so that people understand more what the needs are and how money is spent.

According to Schindler, this more inclusive process will create “a lot more depth and transparency in the budget.”

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