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Editorial: Hadley’s government must adapt to change

Center of Hadley from the air.

GORDON DANIELS Center of Hadley from the air. Purchase photo reprints »

Tough financial times lie ahead for Hadley if town leaders and voters do not act now. Economic growth, spurred for decades by development along Route 9, has slowed. The demand for services has grown. The management structure of town government and key departments needs updating.

Fortunately, the Hadley Select Board has in hand a blueprint for making needed changes.

A 24-page financial management review conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue outlines 33 recommendations to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government operations. The assessment was based on interviews with current and former town officials and draws on financial practices that work well in other communities.

The top three recommendations are the most important:

∎ Develop a 5-year strategic plan that defines clear priorities for the town.

∎ Tie that five-year plan to the town’s annual budget.

∎ Create a performance management program with new job descriptions for municipal employees, performance goals, regular evaluations and training and clear chains of command.

The full report is linked from this editorial on GazetteNET. It will be presented by DOR staff to the public Sept. 25 at a meeting of the so-called Tri-board, a joint session of the Select Board and school and finance committees.

The report reviews the economic trends affecting Hadley. For those involved with town government over the last decade, there are no real surprises.

State aid has declined and tax revenue from new construction and renovation work has also steadily fallen. Rising costs have put added pressure on the budget, from additional spending on education and post-employment benefits to a significant backlog of building and equipment repairs, which the town has put off for years. The report states that “maintaining existing service levels will outstrip revenues in the near future” unless the town sets clear priorities.

The report also noted that tensions among board members and town leaders are getting in the way of smart planning. The tensions mostly grow out of competition for dwindling resources and different visions for what Hadley should be.

“From our vantage point, this is delaying or obstructing critical decisions about how to move the town forward,” the report states. Recommendations made by the DOR in 2007 regarding highway, fire and police departments have not been addressed.

The creation of the Tri-board forum acknowledges the need for better communication and coordination among Hadley’s top elected and appointed leaders. It is an important first step.

The DOR study is a good tool for change provided it does not collect dust on a shelf. Some of the weaknesses identified in the study have been topics for town discussion in the past. It is time to act.

The revenue department staff offers a neutral, third-party view on how Hadley can adapt and adjust to changing times. We expect much from our elected and appointed leaders, but they take their direction from the public. On Sept. 25, voters will have a chance to hear the suggestions and offer their own for shaping the future of Hadley.

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