Need to do better at implementing Charlotte town plan

Assembling our town plan took an enormous investment of time and talent from volunteers, town employees, consultants, the planning commission and selectboard.

It seemed to pay off. In November 2019, the plan was approved with 82 percent of the town vote.
Since then, our town plan has, by and large, been ignored by town leadership.

According to the town website, “Town plans are meant to be guides to the future … (to) include a set of priorities and goals for what can (or should) be done to achieve the future the community seeks.”

The problem lies in the phrase “what should be done.”

Our town plan includes an implementation table that lists “actionable strategies … and proposes their estimated timeline and the municipal party or cooperating entities responsible for undertaking the task.” (see pages 1-64 to 1-74 in the town plan)

There are 71 tasks listed. Various groups of volunteers, town employees and regional nonprofits are assigned responsibility for completing these tasks. The conservation commission has full or shared responsibility for 15 tasks; the selectboard has 44.

Let’s dig a little deeper. The energy committee, for example, is assigned 19 tasks. There are another 10, linked to the energy-related goals in the town plan, that are not included in the implementation table.

This list of “what should be done” is wildly unrealistic for the energy committee, a group of seven volunteers with an annual budget of only $4,500. The same goes for the tasks assigned to other town organizations; they lack the resources needed for the tasks they’ve been assigned.

There is some progress being made on low-budget or no-budget tasks. The energy committee’s Solarize Charlotte program (see related story here) is focused on an important town plan goal: “after reducing total energy consumption per capita by more than 33 percent by 2050, Charlotte will meet 90 percent of remaining energy needs from renewable sources by 2050.” (See pages 1-53 to 1-63 in the town plan.)

Results to date are encouraging. Charlotte solar installations are at about 36 percent of the 2050 goal with 26 years remaining.

Let’s return to the town plan for a moment.

Some view goals in the town plan as aspirational, and that they become real only if a volunteer group or individual takes them on.

I would like to challenge this perspective.

In both the business and nonprofit worlds, strategic plans provide a framework for annual planning and budgeting. Each year, teams are organized, budgets are assigned and progress against plan goals is monitored.

Strategic plans are living documents; Charlotte’s town plan is not, as far as implementation is concerned.
The planning commission deserves some credit here. Late last year, they took the initiative to review progress on some of the town plan implementation tasks (pages 1-64 to 1-74 in the town plan). They didn’t get very far, finding that people are busy, and there was little follow up on town plan assignments.

As we enter the fiscal year ‘26 budget season (for the year starting July 1, 2025), I urge the selectboard to ask each organization requesting town funds to select two or three of their town plan goals and to provide an estimate for the resources required to achieve these goals.

Not all tasks will make it through the budget development process, but this approach would be an excellent start.
Then, in 2026 at around this time, we might see a report in The Charlotte News that features progress made on dozens of town plan goals, not just one renewable energy goal.

Our next town plan is to be completed by 2026. This time, we must do better, especially where implementation tasks and responsibilities, monitoring progress and annual resource allocation are concerned.

(John Quinney is a member of the board of directors of The Charlotte News. The views expressed here are his own and not necessarily those of the board or the organization.)