Headed in the wrong direction

“If you fail to plan,” goes the old adage, “you can plan to fail.”

At the risk of beating the proverbial dead horse, my attention this week once again focuses on the seeming inability of our Powers That Be to plan ahead, this time generated by our Monday edition headline, “Tabled: County office building project nearly $1M over budget.”

The brand new, $26 million (and counting) Chenango County Correctional Facility on Chiarino Drive in the Town of Norwich has been operational since what, 2005? And its devising was in the works for several years before that. I remember writing stories about how the West Park Place jail was in a decrepit state back when I was a reporter in the early 90s. The future of that dilapidated facility has long been in question, but here we are in 2008, apparently surprised when cost estimates keep going up on a project we haven’t made significant progress on in years.

That’s an oversimplification, of course, and I don’t pretend to know all the particulars involved. I’m not an architect, or an engineer, or even a county supervisor. I only know what I read in the paper, and perhaps more importantly, I know what I see.

I see a building that should have been mowed down and turned into a parking lot a long time ago.

I have no doubt that the county’s Social Services and other departments are cramped for space and that they truly have a need for the additional office room in the former jail, but am I the only one who’s concerned as to why?

Why has our county government outgrown a building that we nearly doubled in size, fairly recently, at a cost of another several million dollars? (That’s the DSS wing I’m referring to, the addition that juts east from the original structure). Doesn’t it seem backwards to anyone else that a building which, when constructed in the 1960s, housed our entire public sector has become hopelessly constricted, while our private sector facilities, and the jobs they host, have done just the opposite?

Someone’s asleep at the wheel, folks. We’re headed in the wrong direction if government is increasing and free enterprise is disappearing. Not too long ago, I heard someone quoted as saying something to the effect that pretty soon, everyone in Chenango County will either be working for the county, or receiving a benefit check from it.

That’s a dire prediction, but clearly the direction in which we’re headed. In a perfect world, we’d be finding ways to decrease the size of government, to decrease the need for social welfare programs, and the county would be able to sell off the old jail lot to a Jiffy Lube or a Starbucks. Instead, we’re spending millions of dollars for more office space to handle more programs. And because of our inability to bring these projects to fruition in a timely manner (how long have we been hearing that the communications center/cell tower matter would be resolved soon?), we’re paying millions more than we should be.

Is it all the result of our failure to plan? Perhaps that’s an oversimplification too, but I’d say yes. What I see is a reactionary leadership that handles one thing at a time, often with the left hand knowing, but not necessarily understanding, what the right one is doing. And I’ll blame that on the fact that the majority of our leadership are part-timers – people with other jobs, other concerns, and not always with the right background and discipline necessary to keep us on a straight course. The county, and the city, should be run like businesses – with a qualified CEO in charge who’s held accountable to his or her stakeholders.

But I suppose that’s a whole ‘nother column. I’ll plan on it.

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