2010-12-09 / Front Page

Comprehensive community plan dissected by commission

By Geoff Campbell

There being no reports and no new business, the Jamestown Planning Commission made short work of one of two old business items at its Dec. 1 meeting.

The commissioners voted unanimously to release the final $6,530 of a required bond for the Upland Farm subdivision. In a July 2009 letter from Michael Swistak, chair of the Planning Commission, the owner of the Upland Farm subdivision, Joe Manning, was informed that “the pre-treatment area and detention pond are holding water for extended periods of time, which may signal [a] lack of proper functioning of the system.”

A Nov. 22 memo from Deputy Public Works Director Michael Gray to Town Planner Lisa Bryer noted that “remedial measures for the infiltration basin” had been finished and his recommendation was to “release the final bond for the project.”

Next, the commissioners, led by Bryer, engaged in a detailed

and painstaking review of firstdraft

changes in the Public Services section of the Jamestown Comprehensive Community Plan (JCCP) pages 215-239. The JCCP is reviewed and updated every 10 years and as a public document is available on the town’s web site.

In spite of the chair’s encour- aging the commissioners to take a “big-picture” approach, the group found themselves slogging through many sub-sections of the document word by word.

The Public Services section begins with an introduction: “For a relatively small community in both land and population, Jamestown provides a high quality of public services to its residents. Jamestown is able to provide these services at a tax rate that has been consistently among the lowest in the state, as a result of our highly valued real estate.”

After some passionate pleadings, the introduction’s first paragraph, that attributed a relatively low tax rate to Jamestown’s higher property values, was found to lack language that more accurately described the reasons for Jamestown’s relatively low tax rate.

Commissioner Michael Smith contended that the tax rates were low because of the use of volunteers in town government and in services such as the fire department. He said that individuals enjoy relatively low tax rates because of concerted efforts to keep the cost of government down.

Ultimately, with most of the commissioners weighing in, it was agreed that language recognizing the low cost of government as it relates to providing “a high quality of public services” needed to be added to the document.

The meeting continued to demonstrate the passion of earnest offi cials and the wisdom of experienced professionals as sub topics such as Community Services and Facilities, Animal Control, Educational Facilities and Services, and Public Water Supply and Treatment were dissected and edited throughout the two-hour session.

General agreement among the commissioners was struck regarding the removal of comparisons to 1990 numbers because according to Bryer, it would be difficult to verify the formulas and methods for computing numbers, such as the percentage of general government cost as a percent of the total town budget, given the administrative and technological changes since 1990.

Throughout the review both Swistak and Smith encouraged clarity of terms and definitions and descriptions of properties or services that are not time or place specific. The use of corporate entity names over family names was also favored.

Commissioners disagreed from time to time about the relative value of paragraphs that attempt to relate the history of a given change over time. Smith was quick to point out that the description of the new town hall construction was too brief, leaving out the “blood in the streets” efforts that were necessary for the new building to be constructed.

Smith’s remedy was to curtail or eliminate the historical paragraphs. Dan Lilly agreed with Smith’s “less-is-more” approach and added that because the document is “forward looking” it should stay focused on the future.

Commissioner Duncan Pendlebury offered a contrarian’s view. He said that he had reviewed many comprehensive plans from other towns and they are often bland or boilerplate. “One unique thing that we do is to include history,” he said. To further highlight the difference, he explained that the community plan creates a valuable document for residents that lays out the historical “foundations of the plan.”

Rosemary Enright, who was absent from the meeting but made present by her previous e-mail, recommended that the history be included but shortened – consensus appeared to be reached.

Commissioner Robert Lynn suggested including test scores and per-pupil costs in the educational services section of the document and the chair recommended that the data be referenced or linked, but not necessarily included directly.

Healthy and productive conversation centered on each additional data point. The group took collective care to insure that the information included was valuable and served a purpose.

An updated draft concluding revision of all the pertinent fi- nancial information, current listings of services in each section and grammatical changes made chiefly by the noted author and the group’s designated grammarian Enright, would be made available to the commissioners as soon as it was completed.

The Planning Commission will continue to revise and review the community plan at its next meeting on Dec. 15.

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