Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A comprehensive approach to planning

The MRJs Jesse Buchanan already has his story about tonight's budget meeting online.

As for my thoughts on the budget, I have several concerns. But the central theme is taking a comprehensive approach to planning.

First, we're spending money on the pool. This makes no sense to me. We need to take a comprehensive approach. I'm tired of the footdragging.

Second, we're gonna shell out some big dollars related to energy efficiency improvements. And it's possible those improvements could be paid with a performance contract, not additional debt.

Furthermore, these energy efficiency projects are being done without rhyme or reason. Here's one example of something that should not be done for energy efficiency improvements:

That's $500,000 of your tax dollars that will be going to referendum, while being billed as "energy improvements." On the other hand, replacing windows for "envelope" reasons may make sense.

I look at "envelope" issues in two lights: energy improvements & operational / functional issues. Breaking it down, when I look at envelope issues... improvements fall in one of three categories:

1) energy improvements
2) operational / functional improvements
3) energy improvements & operational / functional improvements


For instance, if a crank window doesn't crank... it must be replaced to function. And if it is stuck open, a new window would also reduce energy consumption. In different "envelope improvement" categories, we may need to replace asbestos tiles (and get no energy improvements) or decide to replace a functioning boiler for simply energy efficiency reasons (i.e. payback is worth it).

The good news for taxpayers is that I saw some headway being made tonight in this regard. Council members seemed to acknowledge that if we don't know the payback on this $500,000 window project... it may not be the best project to do. On the other hand, it was noted that some of Highland's windows don't operate properly.... so I think this "energy improvement" project has little to do with energy... and more to do with operations... but that was nothing, but a reframing of the case (for window replacements) that was made for the first time tonight.

And though I recognize the need for replacing some windows... we're nowhere close to having our hands around these big issues. Instead... we just throw money at problems which do exist... but they may also total far less (or far more) than $500,000. We don't know. So why are we sending this to referendum?

IMO, much of this capital budget (Mixville pump station, school windows, CHS retrofit, etc.) should be put on hold. Then we should fast track a comprehensive approach to potential energy efficiency improvements for our townwide infrastructure... and if it needs to go to referendum... heck... I'd consider doing a springtime referendum for work to begin on our schools next summer.

Unfortunately, that's not happening. Instead we have this piecemeal approach to energy issues. And we have no real idea about the benefit of these projects... I mean... what if the $500,000 on windows has a payback of 25 years (likely), but another $500,000 project has a payback of 5 years? Then why the heck are we spending money on "energy efficient windows?" Or perhaps we should be spending $1,000,000? Who knows?!

We need to take a comprehensive approach to our energy efficiency improvements (including the pool). It doesn't even need to be done with a performance contract (though I'm confident it would work well). We just need to know what gives us the most bang for our buck... set our priorities... then the Council can make a responsible decision about which projects to tackle.

Tim White

4 comments:

Bill said...

A comprehensive and total system wide approach is needed. It is possible to determine the ROI for windows but can be difficult. A suggested solution is to do the following:

Completely retrofit one school with energy improvements. Norton School would have been the best and most logical choice. It now has two new boilers, it could have had one or two microturbines installed at no cost and would have generated electricity for the school. Replace all the windows, insulate where needed. the lighting retrofit is done. We then wold have been able to compare the before energy costs against the new energy costs to determine the return on investment. This could have presented as dollars per square foot or in some other manner. Armed with that data a comprehensive energy retrofit plan cold have been developed for the school system, the proper amount of funding placed into the capital budget and then we could decide to work with performance contracting if it was warranted.

Anonymous said...

How can the budget committee reduce the amount of money for the high school heating retrofit without an updated idea of the costs? The 1.9 mil was number based on quote from several years ago. Where did the 1.5 mil come from? To lower the number just to lower the number is wrong. To lower with a solid reason is something else. Going to a lower number is not going to get a lower price.

Anonymous said...

11:31 ?

The basic quality of much of the budget documentation shown here on this blog is quite low. 11:31 a.m. is on to something and there seems to be a bigger issue in addition to just that which was cited. I for one applaud any cuts made to these budget items based on the lack of adequate details in documentation. As a casual observer one comes away thinking that those putting this stuff together are either

a.) highly overpaid,

b.) have no understanding of what documentation should be provided as a justification

c.) are at least 4 or 5 pay grades beyond their demonstrated abilities based on their written work products, or

d.) ALL OF THE ABOVE.

While I’m sure these 4 descriptors could not be used for all those working for this town unfortunately those select few communicating in this particular venue have justified these descriptors based on the documents we’ve been allowed to look at.

Not to forget the head bosses either, I continue to be amazed that the council majority would accept any of this stuff for further consideration based solely on the overall sketchiness of the documents. And I won’t go into details of budget document sketchiness for some project failures over the past 10 years which are real losers from any perspective either. They all began no doubt with too much sketchiness and easily granted high level approvals. Ah, but when I listen to some of the majority council members - - -

What is needed to elect council members in the future who will require that documentation associated with appropriating tax dollars has been adequately prepared and reviewed before it is released for use by the public as well as for council approval?

Anonymous said...

If the TC went with CT Combustion with the Norton boiler project, we could have had a lot more new windows installed already at Norton. Instead they chose to pay more money for a boiler job thus using up more of the total money previously appropriated.

Talk about poor planning.