Five steps to a vibrant Winsted
I have been reading about the history of Winchester since my arrival three months ago. Many people have provided a variety of books and studies that describe the growth and development of Winchester and Winsted. I am sure that many current residents are unfamiliar with the history of our town. I have much to learn myself (and I look forward to learning).As much as the past is intriguing, it can only provide a framework for how we got to today. Our challenge is to determine where we will go tomorrow. So, from my perspective as town manager, what does our tomorrow hold?First, town government has a lot of catching up to do. Throughout my daily duties, I discover job descriptions from 1969 and the personnel manual from 1980. Several union contracts are on the verge of expiring, which seems to have been an accepted practice before negotiating new contracts. It appears as if four contracts will have to be negotiated over the next 10 months.Second, and as so many remind me, the roads are terrible. I think that residents from nearly every road in town have visited, called or emailed to tell me that their road is the worst one in town. We are working to implement a systematic rating system for the roads. Once the roads have been rated, we will develop a plan to address the road needs. To complete the plan, it will take time and money. The roads have been neglected. I cannot do anything about that past neglect, other than to implement a plan that begins to address the short- and long-term road needs and continue to follow the plan once implemented. Funding is an issue, too, but that will not be considered until we have a plan in place to present to the Board of Selectmen and the town residents.Third, everyone wants to charge forward with economic development. My experience has been that the most important economic development documents are a town’s master plan and supporting zoning regulations. Those documents are the foundation for all development and re-development, and, if faulty, can impede or hamper the efforts of boards, volunteers and developers (as well as current business and property owners). Earlier this year, the town adopted its Plan of Conservation and Development, which serves as the master plan. Unfortunately, the zoning regulations have never been properly developed and, as a piecemeal document, do not specifically support the plan. If we are to be successful in our development and redevelopment efforts, we must re-examine the zoning regulations.Fourth, we need to engage outside agencies and other levels of government. In my short tenure, I have found that Winchester was rarely, or at best, infrequently, represented at various regional meetings. I have indicated to many of you that local government is about relationship building, and we need to get Winchester on the minds of people that may be in a position to help us directly or indirectly.That is a key reason that I believe that we need to professionally represent the town at all times. I was recently chided for opting to wear a coat and tie while flying to Michigan. I responded by saying, what impression would I create if, while wearing shorts or somewhat casual attire, someone asked what I did for a living? I am proud of my profession and my employer and I always want to present those in a positive light. Fifth, I want to engage the community more when it is time to prepare the next budget. I want to illustrate how the town gets our revenues, where we put our expenditures and how certain funding choices are the result of mandates from the state and federal governments. Usually, local governments do not have the discretionary funds that many people associate with state or federal government. I want the community to be invested in our budget and, more importantly, understand how the budget is prepared.Those are five key points that I believe are critical to our future. If we are successful in addressing those issues, we put ourselves in place for a better tomorrow.On a final historic note: This week, 240 years ago, Winchester held its first town meeting. Happy anniversary.Dale Martin is the town manager of Winchester.