Sometimes the weight of government bureaucracy leads to excessive planning and studying with little actual action. But other times, government lays out a plan for review and it leads to open discussion, debate and progress.
Norwalk's new capital improvement plan falls under the latter category.
Mayor Sue Lesch and consultants have been working on the six-year plan since the summer, allowing every city department to present a wish list outlining projects the department heads would like to see completed. We certainly know they can think big, because the project list totals $29 million.
At the same time, city officials are realistic and know not every project will be completed the annual capital improvement budget is only about $800,000 per year. The city also has no choice but to find a way to tackle $7.4 million in mandates from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
However, by outlining all the other projects and then breaking the list down into priorities, the city can do more than simply obey the whims of the EPA. It can be more proactive, rather than just reacting to emergencies. For example, the fire department would like to see a new $3.8-million fire station built. During previous budget discussions, the city simply had to say "we can't afford it," and move on. With the new plan, officials and the public can discuss the need for the station and ways to fund it.
Keeping the public informed of the inner government workings is always an admirable goal. And it usually pays off, because even if voters don't ever love to open their pocket books for new taxes or bond measures, open debate and a true understanding of the need for a project increases the likelihood of approval.