Over the past several weeks, Southington Heartbeat has taken a look at new Garry Brumback and his his experience, goals and visions for the community with the challenges Southington faces today.
In the final segment, Brumback discusses the state of the town and what could change with upcoming renovation projects and municipal needs.
Q: How do you describe the responsibility of the Town Manager in our municipal government structure and the services it requires including the political process of getting things done?
Brumback: The responsibility of the town manager is different in Southington than anywhere else I’ve known. It is my responsibility to manage the administration to provide the highest standard that the citizenry demands, to the level of its willingness to support.
'Town Manager’ is an appropriate term for managing the town’s resources, but it goes further. The history of our municipal form of government was born of a healthy skepticism of having too much authority placed in one individual, person or body.
Instead, that authority was split between several boards and commissions; this makes my job particularly interesting…I manage the assets of the administration and manage the processes of three separate, distinct boards, each elected in its own right. That’s a challenge I haven't confronted before, but as long as you have people striving to do what’s best for the community you can manage all the rest of the details.
Q: How would the implementation of the town’s needs and priorities as you stated in the first part of our interview be impacted by referendum approval of the $85 million project to retrofit our two middle schools?
Brumback: Succinctly put, the effect is that it will eat up a tremendous amount of our bonding capacity, increasing my challenge. I will work with the Board of Education to get the resources they need while at the same time being open to every opportunity to shoehorn in pieces of those capital projects that are most important and that the community will support.
I have the highest respect for what the Board of Education has done and I believe in my heart that there is room to achieve the highest priorities of both. The “nice to do stuff” is probably not going to happen, in the short run, but I still think there’ll be room for the “need to do stuff.”
Q: What challenges do you see for Southington, given its needs and the current economic situation at all levels of government?
Brumback: We cannot escape the challenges that face the federal government. To an extent, I am disappointed in how the federal government and the state have handled those challenges because where we fall in that “food chain” has diminished our ability to be most effective.
Resources are all marshaled at the federal and state level while 80% of our revenue is from property tax. Connecticut doesn’t share sales tax and other revenue with municipalities. In states such as Texas, Florida and others who share sales taxes, licensing and franchise fees, etc., municipalities have a wider revenue stream.
In Southington, when we experience the devaluation of homes, that seriously impacts us because while the property values and associated tax revenue go down, the cost of government doesn’t change and Southington has one of the lowest tax rates in our region and an austere government so there’s not a lot of wiggle room. We now have to factor into our planning that past aid from the state is no longer a given.
The federal government also plays a large role in supporting us, particularly with roads and infrastructure. When the federal government engages in the political debacle we saw this summer, it hurts everyone.
My biggest concern for Southington is the rate at which we can borrow. Should interest rates go up even a couple of points, it will have a huge impact on the things we hope to do. The worst of it is that what is happening is completely unnecessary.
Q: For a closer understanding of your approach and past experience, would you point to one or two examples of effectively improving services and meeting challenging conditions?
Brumback: Everyone wants value for the taxes they pay. My approach is to open a thoughtful dialogue with the community to understand the services it wants and to provide efficient ways of doing business with the town. For example the development of a new technology and communications structure, approved by the town council in August, will enable us to provide information to the community and easy access to town services.
As an illustration, to apply for a permit of any kind, you now have to come to town hall during weekday business hours. With new technology, simple things like that can be done from the privacy of your home at any hour of any day. The result is across the board efficiency for the citizens and town operations.
I’m also hoping that access and approachability will help restore civil discourse. It’s clear that we don’t do a good job of disagreeing with one another or debating. That’s a skill we need to develop and it’s one of my highest personal priorities.
My impressions are that Garry Brumback is direct, articulate and focused in his job, which has become his mission. Generous with his time, he is readily accessible and has a style of leading with effective communications, developing consensus and a good reading of the mood and attitudes of the community.
And by the way, he’s enjoying the job!
In Case You Missed It...
Be sure to see our previous interviews including a look into and a discussion regarding .