Whenever a government board contemplates a complex decision, their first thought should be, “What’s best for taxpayers?”
That should be on the minds of members of the Rotterdam Town Board tonight as they decide how to move forward with plans to address the town’s need for improved office space.
To save money and consolidate operations, town officials have been looking into moving town operations, including the police department and town justice court, along with 100 employees, into vacant space in the old Kmart store at the Viaport mall.
But officials are now rethinking an earlier commitment to move to the mall, given updated figures on upgrading existing facilities.
So town officials, and their taxpayers, may have actually been given a gift when it was learned recently that a deal they signed last year to move forward with a 10-year lease agreement at the mall for 50,000 square feet of space was nullified because the town failed to schedule a public referendum on the proposal, as required under state law.
In addition to the Viaport move, the town also has considered upgrading its current facilities and staying put.
There are pros and cons to both options, based on renovation costs and annual maintenance costs over the terms of the respective agreements.
It seems that right now, town officials and taxpayers don’t have enough information to make a reasonable decision on any of the options.
And if they don’t have enough information, they shouldn’t be committing taxpayers to any kind of deal right now.
With some new town board members in place, now would be a reasonable time for town officials to put any project on hold temporarily while they gather new figures on every option, including future space needs.
They also might consider looking at other options, such as consolidating services and operations with a surrounding community or finding an alternative site to either the mall or the existing town offices.
What options were discussed and dismissed in the past that might be viable now?
They probably don’t have to start from scratch on getting figures. But they should at least get the latest information on all options before proceeding.
Step one for the board should be immediately renegotiating the voided deal with mall owners to include both a lease option for the Kmart space and an option to buy it. (And make sure to include the part about the public referendum this time.)
That deal could include an option to purchase the entire 87,000-square-foot Kmart facility. Maybe they can get better terms next time around.
Before town officials commit to any plan, they need to share the details of all their options with town residents and make sure the plan they settle on is the right plan for taxpayers, for now and in the future.
With every decision, they must remember who they’re doing this all for.