Chatham Joins 'Commonwealth Community Compact'

By: Alan Pollock

<Caption>As Chairman of Selectmen Cory Metters and other town officials look on, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito signs the Commonwealth Community Compact between the town and state Tuesday. TIM WOOD PHOTO


CHATHAM Agreeing to codify certain state-identified “best practices” in financial management, public accessibility and human resources, Chatham has become the latest Massachusetts municipality to join the Commonwealth Community Compact.

The town becomes the 297th in the state – including every other town on Cape Cod – to join the program. Compact member communities get priority for certain state grant programs and receive access to specialized technical assistance.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Chairman of Selectmen Cory Metters signed the compact Tuesday.

“As well run as Chatham is as a community, there's always more you can do to improve your game,” Polito said, running down the list of “best practices” the town pledges to adopt as part of the compact.

Town Manager Jill Goldsmith told selectmen last week that she was a member of the technical focus group that helped identify the best practices included in the program, and many of those practices have already been put in place over the last five years.

Gov. Charlie Baker created the compact by executive order – his first as governor – in January 2015. As an incentive to to adopt money-saving practices and efficiencies identified by the program, cities and towns that opt in are eligible for added points or preference on grant applications, a commitment to state aid by the administration, and other support.

The best practices are broken into 10 categories: education, energy and the environment, finance, housing and economic development, human resources, information technology, public accessibility, public safety, regionalization and transportation. They include buying fuel-efficient vehicles, convening an opioid task force, adopting zoning changes that promote responsible development, and even implementing cyber-security training.

Participating communities are required to adopt one best practice, but are encouraged to adopt up to three, and the proposals are reviewed and accepted by the state. Each initiative needs to be implemented within two years. Harwich joined the compact in July, pledging to develop a comprehensive annual financial report and to implement new stormwater management measures. Orleans has been a member since May 2016, on a promise to implement online databases that make the town's budget easy for the public to scrutinize.

Goldsmith said Chatham's primary best practice is to prepare an annually reviewed capital improvement plan that reflects the community's needs and how they fit within the town's ability to pay. Creating such a plan was a goal identified by the board of selectmen, and is a recommendation of the finance committee.

A second initiative involves developing a formal wage and classification plan that sets job descriptions, employee grades and salary ranges, something that has not been done comprehensively in Chatham for nearly a decade. Having such a plan is key to effective collective bargaining agreements and personnel policies, Goldsmith said.

Polito said the sate is studying how to create a pipeline of talent for municipal government, which faces challenges in hiring qualified individuals who can often make more in the private sector.

The third best practice chosen by the town is in the category of public accessibility. As a compact member, the town would be able to carry out an evaluation that could pave the way for a grant of up to $250,000 through the Mass Works Program. The grant would be used to build and improve handicap-accessible sidewalks as part of a comprehensive town-wide sidewalk plan, which is already underway, Public Works Director Tom Temple said at the recent summer town meeting. Polito said the program is designed to help communities expand economic opportunities.

“We know these dollars will unlock private partnerships and help improve downtowns,” she said.

Once a community is accepted into the compact, that designation lasts two years. Communities can reapply every other year, but they are not obliged to do so, the town manager said.

“I think it's a great idea,” Selectman Shareen Davis said.