Downtown, Public Assets, Consolidating Town Services
The Valley Patriot sat down with North Andover Town Manager Andrew Maylor in March of this year to give residents a chance to get to know the man running their town, and his plans for their future.
(Transcribed by Kathleen Laplante)
VP: How do we revitalize Downtown? Can we create a local storefront facade program?
MAYLOR: Look at the Old Town Common. You don’t have to be from North Andover to drive through that area and feel like, “I’m gonna come back here.” That’s how you feel, right?
You don’t feel that way here. And so, we’ve talked a little, we’re actually putting [together] the capital plan to do a similar kind of thing near Machine Shop Village and on High Street, to start to make that sort of historical, “create the period” look. It’s a little more complicated here. All you have to do is look out the window. There are poles going where the wires go. They don’t just run this way [along the street]. They run like this [across].
So I think if we could start with a storefront program… The real challenge is how do you fund the storefront program and once you do that, I think there’d be a strong interest to change the storefronts, create a continuity of look that makes it look like historic, Old Town New England, and then you’re going to have to fund the infrastructure.
So here’s the balance. It’s a rhetorical question, but if I said to you, we’re going to have to set aside two, three, or four hundred thousand dollars, to invest in our own businesses to create the storefront… We’re going to have to invest $1,000,000 to get these poles out of the way so they look like the Old Town Common, are you or are the residents understanding how this community has now been developed, right?
It’s been developed this side of town first, but where has most of the development been in the last 10 or 20 years?
VP: Rt.114 up to Littleton.
MAYLOR: Right. All the way out to the Boxford country area, right? Is the community as a whole willing to invest a million, million and a half, two million dollars, to energize what Main Street could look like? I think that’s a real question. That’s a community-based question. Are you ready to do that? Is the return significant enough that we’re going to attract people here and make it what people envision? I think a couple of more indirect things, part of the Facilities Master Plan – we’re going to call for an expansion of the Senior Center. We’re seeing a booming senior population. We want to expand that on this site. Part of the proposal was not to expand it here. We want to expand it on the site so that more seniors come here and attract the businesses too.
The next phase, the third phase of the Facilities Master Plan, we’ll build a new fire station, but move Planning and Development next door. [That] gets them out of the rental space.
VP: So, unlike Lawrence, you’ve actually got a plan to eat down all the money that the town is spending on rent, and move those into town owned facilities. Lawrence is going the other way.
MAYLOR: It’s sort of an interesting dialogue, because if you look at it’s 10-year window, then you sit there and say, “Geez, rentals sort of make sense,” right? If you look at it in a historic perspective, how long we’ve been around and how long we’re going to be here, then I think you invest in the assets we have and get out of rental space.
Plus, we have the opportunity here, a couple things that are really important. Because of how we structured the Capital Plan, beginning last year, all of the work I’m talking about, expanding the Senior Center. When we do community development here, building the fire station, building a gym at the Kittredge, and moving the Central Office to the Police Station, it’s all being done inside the Capital Plan, inside the cap, no overrides, no additional tax dollars.
VP: That’s great.
MAYLOR: So what we’re saying is, we’re just making the wrong spending choices. Let’s spend in our own assets. Let’s get away from the rental environment, and let’s bring people to places where they can energize business. Right now, every person that comes in to pull a building permit, every person that comes into the Health Department, every person that comes into the Planning Department, goes to the 1600 Osgood St. [Commerce Center]. That’s the image they see in the town, or like you said, they see 114. They don’t see this [downtown].
So, when we move Community Development next door, have a Central Shop, bring 30 or 40 more employees down to this area, people have to come visit [downtown] to get their building permits, their health permits, and we hope that adds more people, but we’ve gotta support when they arrive here, that there are vibrant businesses that they want to service. And that’s all being done. The Capital Plan, the Facilities Plan last year, that we got Town Meeting to support, I’ve funded it within a 5-year capital plan.
All the work will be done in 10 years and all done within the cap. It’s a good plan.
VP: As far as public safety goes, you come from a city to a town. Public safety is obviously run a lot different in a town than in a city. Anything surprise you? Anything you’d like to change about what’s going on as far as the police and fire?
MAYLOR: No, I don’t see necessary change… I’ve spent some time evaluating it. I think that it’s interesting. I think we do a lot with the resources that have been provided. I think the resources are appropriate, but I think we do a lot. We’re not only 26 square miles, the town’s shape is a rectangle, right? Rectangles aren’t as easy to service as a square in terms of certain distances, right? So I think our response time is good. The fact that this is a fully accredited Police Department, as an example, shows us the sort of professionalism that exists. Dispatch seems to work really well. The fire response is great. The ambulance system works well here.
We get great response from residents about that. I think we’re both staffed and trained well and the service delivery is positive. So I think it’s generally status quo on the public safety side. I see good things, and they work well together. Both chiefs have a sense of pride in the community, which I think is evident in terms of what happens in terms of service delivery.
VP: How does the town keep track of assets like computers and Blackberries and things that are given out to the schools and the employees? We hear a lot of complaints in cities, especially like Lawrence and Haverhill, that the schools are giving out laptops for the kids and there’s no tracking them. I know towns are a little different, so I’m just wondering if you guys have a …
MAYLOR: We have an asset tracking system. Every asset that’s deployed is bar coded. I was just looking at the side of that desk. There’s a barcode on that. There’s a barcode on the conference room table here. There’s a barcode on the more portable assets. We keep track of inventory like that. Our central IT shop has been the centerpiece for doing that.
The law changed a little bit. The accounting rules changed some years ago where communities were required to actually place their fixed assets on their balance sheets in a concrete way, not just an estimate.
So, about a decade or so ago communities actually had to keep track of all physical assets, not only critical assets like technology, but believe it or not, even our pipes and streets. What’s the age? What’s the length? And some communities were more aggressive about complying with that. North Andover has done a really effective job. We have an asset inventory and asset software program that identifies all those. The world is changing, so our assets are becoming more portable. That becomes tricky. It does.
You track that stuff, but at the end of the year, comparing what you began with to what you ended with and then trying to figure out in between if the phone broke, the iPad broke, becomes tricky. I think we’re taking sort of a measured approach on big [things]. I’m very hawkish on technologies. You see some of the changes to the meeting room. We can now do things in a way that is more consistent with the private sector view on things: we didn’t have WiFi in this building before I arrived. We have WiFi. We now have an iPhone/Droid app that you can use to identify potholes or other complaints you may have and send them directly to Public Works.
But with that comes a little bit of a risk about the portability of the assets. So it’s not a perfect system, but trying to keep track of the assets with an asset tracking system helps.
VP: Do you get frustrated at all about the way the school system and the School Committee operates? They negotiate a contract with the Union that’s far and above what’s in their budget, and they have to come to the town and ask for more money to pay for something they’ve already committed to giving away in a signed contract.
MAYLOR: Well, my experience here has been that the communication between the Selectmen, the School Committee, the Administration, and myself has been good. If I had to note one thing that stands out in a positive way, it’s been that [the communication] with the schools.
MAYLOR: I meet weekly with the Superintendant and the Business Manager, or whatever we call Jim Miller these days in the schools. We talk candidly. We have those discussions. The School Department adopted a budget last night. I think it reflects a reasonable balance of “We need all this” vs. “What we have”. And those conversations, I think last year is an example. There’s been sort of a circular practice here, of using the Budget Communications Group. It was a, “Let’s lock ourselves in a room until we can figure out how to balance what you want vs. what I want.”
Last year, we didn’t use it. Last year, we were able to talk through the priorities, the balance and the needs. It goes through sustainability piece. Last night, the School Committee voted as part of their budget, $150,000 to a reserve fund to deal with the fluctuations in special education.
When’s the last time a School Committee voted anything to a reserve fund? Not in my experience, right? It’s complicated. So as part of their core service, they said, “We want to set aside $150,000 in the reserve fund, so next year, when we get an out of district placement, or something unusual, we’re not taking it from something else.” I think that is the result of the really positive communication that we sit there and say, “We’re trying to be sustainable. We’re not spending every nickel we have. We have set it aside. We sort of expect you to do the same.”
It’s been really great. We don’t agree on everything. I wouldn’t do everything the same way. I wish I had bottom line spending like superintendents have, you know, but the relationship’s been great.
VP: How much more are they spending this year??
MAYLOR: I think their request was $4.12M.
VP: Is the majority of that salary?
MAYLOR: Yes, usually. Schools are different than towns in the fact that they are 80% or so employee based, so therefore it’s salary driven and you go up with that. So if you just applied that math across the increases on what they get year to year, they’re 80%, you know, they’re well over a $1,000,000 in salary related stuff.
The Town is a little more balanced, more like 60/40. The nature of what they do is different, and you have to get that up front. Again, we’re not going to agree on everything, on every approach. I will tell you, to date, the relationship has been good.