NAUGATUCK — Borough officials got their first look at a strategic plan for shaping the future of Naugatuck government Monday night. That future may entail privatizing certain services currently under the borough’s wing.
“Municipalities need to create their new normal,” said Jeffrey Ziplow, a partner with the West Hartford-based consulting firm Blum Shapiro. “We can’t continue to do the same thing and provide necessarily the same services.”
Blum Shapiro was hired last November for $62,000 to develop a long-term strategic plan on the operations of borough government. Over the last six or so months, company representatives have analyzed the borough’s government. They’ve gathered feedback from officials and residents in order make recommendations to streamline borough government.
Among the most striking changes recommended by the company is privatizing the Naugatuck Visiting Nurses Association and Youth and Family Services.
“This is one of those; I’ll use the term soul-searching discussions. It’s a hard one to have. It’s not one that I take lightly. But, it’s one that I think needs to be had and needs to be looked at and evaluated,” said Ziplow as he presented an executive summary of the final draft report to the Tri-Board of the Board of Mayor and Burgesses, Board of Finance and Board of Education.
The VNA and Youth and Family Services are both agencies of the borough and receive funding through the municipal budget. The VNA’s budget this year is about $1.2 million. The Youth and Family Services budget is roughly $122,000. It’s $55,000 less than the 2012-13 fiscal year because borough officials did not fill the position of youth services director after former Director Jane Lobdell died last July. The position has not been filled pending the results of the strategic planning process.
The draft report recommends merging the two agencies with private health care organizations.
“It’s our opinion it doesn’t make sense to keep it within the municipality,” Ziplow said.
He said health care services in other communities are provided by private organizations.
“It seems to make more business sense to come up with game plan to transition what exists today in the current municipality to more of a private-type of organization,” Ziplow said.
The report also recommends the privatization of trash and recycling collection, which is currently done by the public works department. The report suggests the borough requests bids for collection to develop a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether it’s cheaper to privatize trash collection.
The privatization of services arguably represents the most significant shift to borough government in the draft report. However, the plan includes a host of other recommendations.
According to the report, the borough should work with surrounding communities to regionalize services, such as animal control facilities. The report recommends the borough and Board of Education grow the number of services they share. Currently, the finance director and human resources director work for both the borough and school district. The report points out other areas that can be shared, such as information technology, purchasing and custodial.
The borough’s Strategic Economic Development Plan, which was written about 10 years ago, needs to be updated, according to the report.
Ziplow said the plan is good. But, he said, it wasn’t managed as Naugatuck pursued the Renaissance Place project, which has fallen through.
The report also suggests the borough should explore a self-insurance program to help control health care costs. An employee reward programs and a structured evaluation process should also be promoted to help create an environment the supports engaged, high performing employees and allows the borough to retain and recruit talented personnel.
Customer satisfaction with borough services should also be improved, according to the report. The report recommends the creation of a customer service center for residents to report problems and get information. The borough should also conduct an annual citizen satisfaction survey, according to the report.
The borough should also utilize technology better, including a 24/7 Town Hall service that lets customers conduct business online, expansion of the town’s website and implement mobile technologies that allow employees to work in the field.
The report additionally recommends the borough plan and provide funding to maintain and improve its infrastructure, create a long-term beautification program and do more to promote activities and assets in Naugatuck.
“This plan is not going to happen overnight. … It’s going to take some time,” Ziplow said.
Ziplow said the draft report is not the end of the process, but actually the beginning.
Mayor Robert Mezzo said there is a lot of information for borough officials to digest. He said the Tri-Board will reconvene in the coming weeks to discuss the merits of the plan.
Diane Scinto, chairman of the finance board, urged those in attendance Monday night not to jump to conclusions. She said the planning process is going to be a long one moving forward and one that is not about shutting doors.
“This is about the community of Naugatuck, and this is about improving Naugatuck for the residents,” she said.