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Economy teaches benefits of investing for the future.

Small cities and large are struggling with budget woes during this prolonged recession, and Rockville, Maryland, despite a historically strong financial position, is not immune from these effects. But while looking for new ways to cut costs without reducing services, we are benefitting from policies and programs put in place during good economic times that have saved taxpayer money and continue to do so. In planning for economic recovery, local governments should not overlook these types of investments in future cost savings.

In 1959 Rockville began an aggressive program of street maintenance we call smoothseal, which became a national model. Each year the mayor and council approve several hundred thousand dollars to place a 5/8 inch layer of asphalt paving on 10 to 12 miles of city streets. With a total of approximately 120 miles of city-maintained streets, every street receives an application of smoothseal about once every 12 years, more frequently for heavily traveled surfaces. As a result, street repair costs are kept relatively low while our residents enjoy smooth, problem-free roads in their neighborhoods and all around the City.

Fifteen years ago Rockville was one of the early leaders in municipal energy management. A comprehensive energy conservation and alternative energy effort was undertaken that received a presidential citation in 1979. City buildings were audited and retrofitted. New government construction incorporated energy efficient standards in its design. Vehicles were downsized and alternative fuels were used. Rockville helped initiate a regional program to purchase vehicle fuels at a reduced rate through a cooperative contract with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. The city also led an effort to reduce electric rates for high efficiency street lights, leading to wide use of the new lights throughout the region. These efforts are currently saving the city tens of thousands of dollars annually.

In 1978 Rockville adopted a storm water management program with the ambitious goal of eventually controlling the runoff from 100 percent of the developed portions of the city. Over the years a combination of regional storm water retention facilities and smaller on-site systems for new development was created. A program was put into place to allow for new development that, for good reason, could not provide on-site storm water management to contribute to a dedicated fund to build and maintain the regional facilities. The result is that as the Clean Water Act and regional efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay produced greater demands on local governments everywhere to implement more aggressive storm water management plans. Rockville was already ahead of the cost curve. The costs associated with storm water management and now wetlands mitigation are still enormous, but Rockville's early, aggressive planning and implementation is reaping valuable benefits for our taxpayers.

Investing in people-oriented services also pay dividends. Ten years ago Rockville turned an abandoned elementary school into a multi-service senior center. Programs that include arts and crafts, senior exercise and fitness, and senior travel and adventure activities were initiated. Now, with the population of people 75 years of age and older the fastest growing of all age groups, Rockville has been able to meet the soaring demand for senior services with minimal added expense.

Not only has the number of senior citizens increased, but the number of non-English speaking seniors is up significantly. The city's senior center has become a multi-cultural, multi-lingual senior organization. Seniors raise money to support their own activities and make an annual contribution to the city for maintenance of the center.

How do these ongoing efforts help us cope with today's fiscal crises? First, they are helping in a very real way to keep the city out of financial crisis. Second, it makes it possible to pursue other innovative investments when we know the future benefits will be lower operating costs. This in turn encourages more innovative thinking on the part of city staff, who know that their money-saving ideas have a real chance of being implemented.

The old adage, "you can pay me now or pay me later but you will pay," holds true with regard to city services. If you wait until a fiscal crisis strikes to reduce costs, you end up cutting programs and reducing services, which leaves nobody happy. When you pursue cost efficiency on a continuing basis through improved technology, preventive maintenance, and innovative thinking, you are more likely to survive the next fiscal crisis with programs intact and your citizens and staff most appreciative.
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Title Annotation:Small Cities
Author:Coyle, James F.
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Nov 16, 1992
Words:737
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