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Ideas in Action

Summaries of successful local government programs are published in PM Magazine.

Shop Department Builds Tire Cutter

The city of Montrose, Colorado (population 12,000), used to spend $4 to $5 for each tire it disposed of at the local landfill. Although using a tire cutter would have enabled the city to pack used tires with regular trash and to pay much lower landfill rates, the cost of a commercial tire cutter-$20,000-was prohibitive.

So the city's fleet manager decided that the city should build its own tire cutter. He came up with the design, obtained most of the materials at a local scrap yard, and had his own staff build the device. After the city had spent $500 on materials and approximately 40 hours on labor, it had gained a tire cutter that is extremely functional. Once it is attached to the end of a backhoe, it can cut up four tires a minute. The homemade tire cutter requires virtually no maintenance.

Source: Ideas in Action: A Guide to Local Government Innovation, copyright 2004, published by ICMA, Washington, D.C.


Reducing Light Pollution

The Ketchum, Idaho (population 3,000), City Council has passed an ordinance limiting the brightness of exterior lighting on all commercial and residential properties in the city. The ordinance is designed to enhance the ability of residents to see the night sky, which helps to preserve the rural quality of life in the city and to enhance the experience of tourists. The ordinance also improves safety because it results in more even lighting, instead of a few bright spots and many dark spots.

When it passed the ordinance, the city mandated that all commercial properties conform. Residential properties, however, are only required to conform when homeowners apply for new building permits or when a neighbor complains about a property's lights. In 1999, when the ordinance was first passed, the city promoted it through a public relations campaign that included a brochure. The city periodically runs articles to remind residents of the ordinance.

Source: Ideas in Action: A Guide to Local Government Innovation, copyright 2004, published by ICMA, Washington, D.C.


Mobile Medical Unit

The town of Farmville, Virginia (7,000), set up a mobile medical tactical unit that can respond to hazardous-materials spills and bioterrorist attacks, as well as major emergencies. The unit is staffed by trained emergency-management team volunteers who are on call 24 hours a day, as well as a volunteer physician. When hazardous materials are involved in an event, the team can begin overseeing officer and civilian safety within minutes while the hazmat team mobilizes, which can take up to two-and-a-half hours.

The unit has all the equipment needed to identify potantially hazardous materials and to carry on decontamination procedures until the hazmat unit is ready to take over. The unit can also provide emergency medical attention, including minor surgery. The vehicle for the mobile medical tactical unit is a donated ambulance with $100,000 worth of equipment, some of it donated and some provided by the town.

Source: Ideas in Action: A Guide to Local Government Innovation, copyright 2004, published by ICMA, Washington, D.C.


Employee Fitness Room at No Cost to Taxpayers

When the town of Grand Chute,Wisconsin (population 18,000), built a new town hall, the town board agreed to include a fitness room for employees but did not provide a budget for equipping the room.A group of employees established a relationship with a nonprofit affiliate of the employee union and began raising money through the affiliate to purchase fitness equipment. Several employees sold bratwurst and hamburgers on weekends at a local store that offers space for nonprofit fundraising.

They sold chili at an annual fundraiser for a local park, and several town board members helped make the chili.The employees also set out an "honor bar" of snacks for employees to purchase.A group of employees spent the $1,200 earned through their fundraising efforts on a set of free weights and a resistance machine.They hope to raise another $1,000 this year to buy a treadmill and an exercise bicycle.

Source: Ideas in Action: A Guide to Local Government Innovation, copyright 2004, published by ICMA,Washington, D.C.


Preserving Historic Properties

To preserve the historic character of many properties in the city of Mobile,Alabama (population 199,000), the city has purchased façade easements on 150 properties.The homeowner signs a legal document that is recorded in probate court and remains with the deed of property in perpetuity.The owner may not make any changes to the house’s exterior, such as painting, new construction, or demolition, without the city’s permission.

In exchange, the homeowner receives a tax credit from the Internal Revenue Service usually worth 10 to 15 percent of the building’s value minus the land’s value, although the city charges 3 percent of the easement figure to cover its administrative costs.The city inspects the properties every five years and rarely finds a problem. Because homes in the historic district cannot be altered without permission anyway, the easement provides homeowners with an essentially “free” tax credit.

Source: Ideas in Action:A Guide to Local Government Innovation, copyright 2004, published by ICMA,Washington, D.C.


Revitalizing Port Huron

The Revitalizing Port Huron program is designed to encourage pride, redevelopment, and reinvestment in the historically industrial city of Port Huron, Michigan (population 32,000). The city has teamed up with county government, local banks that offer financing assistance for home remodeling projects and down payments on home purchases, realtors who can provide advice to renters about purchasing homes, a national charity that constructs houses for those in need, local charitable foundations, and hardware stores offering discount coupons.

Residents seeking to improve their homes can now go to any of the partners and find out how to put together services from several partners to address their needs. The partners can also team up to address a single problem. For example, a local charity provided volunteers, another supplied building materials, the city gave technical advice, and the local Red Cross affiliate offered transportation to make repairs in one house.

Source: Ideas in Action: A Guide to Local Government Innovation, copyright 2004, published by ICMA, Washington, D.C.


Helping Businesses During Construction

While Rufe Snow Drive in the city of North Richland Hills, Texas (population 56,000), is being widened from five to seven lanes, which is expected to take two years, the city is offering support to businesses located along the drive.

As soon as planning for the construction project began, city representatives met with local businesses to identify their concerns and come up with ways to resolve them. The city made portable signs directing customers to the driveways of businesses, as these driveways are not always visible during the construction. The signs can be moved as construction progresses.

The city also worked with the businesses to develop a savings-card program offering discounts at 25 to 30 participating businesses. The city promotes the cards through its Web site and newsletters and distributes them at local events. The cards can also be downloaded from the city’s Web site. Through the city’s efforts, more businesses on the drive have opened than have closed during construction.

Source: Ideas in Action: A Guide to Local Government Innovation, copyright 2004, published by ICMA, Washington, D.C.


Renovating Downtown Apartment Space

The city of Burlington, Vermont (population 38,889), is encouraging downtown retailers to convert their unused or underused second-story space into apartments. Many retail property owners already receive excellent rents from their downstairs tenants and see no need to spend money converting their second stories into housing. The city hopes, however, that providing more housing will encourage more people to live downtown, enhancing the safety and attractiveness of this district.

To support the conversion of space in a historic downtown building into three apartments, the city received a $75,000 grant from the state’s Vermont Downtown program, which helps cities improve their central business districts. The grant was instrumental in persuading the owner to commit to paying the rest of the renovation’s $300,000 price tag. Through programs like this one, Burlington hopes to create an old-fashioned, 24-hour downtown where people live, shop, eat, and come for recreation.


City and Citizens Save Brick Streets

When Punta Gorda, Florida (population 14,344), started rehabilitating its sewers, it replaced some brick streets with asphalt to save money. A group of dissatisfied citizens volunteered to remove and replace the bricks, and a highly successful volunteer program was born, with the permission and support of the city council. Now, 50 to 60 volunteers help save one or two brick streets each year.

The city picks up the bricks before working on the utilities and has them cleaned. The volunteers spend a day relaying the bricks. This beautification project has boosted real estate values, and the city saves $5,000 to $7,000 every time the volunteers relay a brick street. The city also saves replacement costs because asphalt streets need to be repaved every 10 to 12 years, while brick streets can last as long as the utilities beneath them do, typically up to 50 years.


Walking Town Meetings

Since 1996, the mayor, city council, and department heads of Rockville, Maryland (population 47,388), have conducted monthly "walking town meetings" with neighborhood associations. City staff meet with a neighborhood association before the meetings to identify issues of interest or concern and to plan the neighborhood tour. Residents' questions are passed on to appropriate departments before the meetings so that answers are available at the meetings themselves.

The city mails postcards and posts signs to promote meetings, which are held between March and September (except during July and August) and are typically attended by 20 to 40 residents. A bus is always available to transport everyone through the neighborhood in case of rain. The meetings have proved popular with the residents of the 20 or so neighborhoods that have hosted them, and the mayor and councilmembers appreciate the opportunity to mingle with residents and gain a new perspective on issues.


Electronic Council-Packet Program

Members of the Greenwood Village, Colorado (population 11,035), city council now receive their meeting agendas and associated documents on compact discs. Instead of bringing three-ring binders to council meetings, members bring laptop computers. During the meetings, the mayor and nine councilmembers can search for information with the click of a mouse or use special software to make notes on any of the material. Hyperlinks connect agenda items with relevant documents and references to the municipal code, and several documents can be viewed on the screen simultaneously. Councilmembers love the ease of the new system.

The city spent $50,000 for laptops for the mayor, the council, and the executive management team. The amount of labor to produce and distribute the documents is about the same as for paper documents; it takes approximately an hour to burn all the CDs that are distributed.


City Purchases Defibrillators and Trains Employees to Use Them

The city of Greenfield, Wisconsin (population 35,476), bought 26 automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) for $86,000. Funds came from donations by the police and fire departments, a local hotel/motel group, and profits from the sale of some equipment. The AEDs have been installed in the city hall, police department, emergency response vehicles, police cars, and fire department engines.

The city has trained all 237 of its employees, including the mayor and common council president, in the use of AEDs as well as in CPR. The four-hour training sessions were provided at no charge by staff members of the parks and recreation department and of the fire department, as well as by the American Red Cross. Employees are trained annually to maintain their skills.


Community College/Police Training Partnership

The East Haven, Connecticut (population 28,189), Police Department recently took advantage of an unusual program in the state's community college system that allows localities to obtain training and equipment at reduced rates. The police signed an agreement with Gateway Community Technical College through which the college would provide 30 hours of training to several police officers and more than 200 hours of training to the network administrator. While they were being trained, all participating police officers were enrolled in the community college and received certificates after completion. The agreement also called for the purchase of 15 workstations and two servers, as well as for wiring the police building.

The department estimates that after spending $80,000, it saved close to 50 percent on these training costs. The college was able to provide the training at cost, and it passed on the savings to buy the computers that it obtains through bulk purchasing.

 

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