Making it happen in North Canaan

First Selectman Brian Ohler, right, welcomed Town Hall’s new executive assistant, Paul Mattingly, Saturday, March 2.

Kathryn Boughton

Making it happen in North Canaan

NORTH CANAAN—Sometimes the best ideas are right before our eyes, obvious but unrecognized.

Put some new eyes on the problem, however, and they are quickly detected.

That is the case with an initiative at the North Canaan Town Hall, where First Selectman Brian Ohler has begun “Make it Happen Mondays,” a time at the beginning of the week and the beginning of the day when contractors and homeowners can find all the building officials they need in one place.

“I had thought about it for a while,” Ohler said. “Speaking with residents and contractors, I heard complaints that the office hours were piecemeal — one office is open, another closed. The building process takes numerous steps, so in an effort to improve the permitting process, we decided to bring all the offices together at one time, under one roof.”

From 8 to 11 a.m., people can visit the building official, the fire marshal, the zoning enforcement officer and a representative of the Torrington Area Health District at Town Hall. “They’re all here, willing and able to assist people to complete the permitting process,” Ohler said

Ohler has made other shifts in the Town Hall schedule to accommodate the public. An early riser himself, he said: “My office hours start at 5 a.m. A lot of contractors start early, and if they only have 15 minutes to get business done, I am here.”

His office is also open until 8 p.m. on Monday to accommodate residents who work out of town. Tuesday through Thursday, the day ends at 4 p.m., and on Friday, his doors are open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

A further change is that new executive assistant Paul Mattingly will remain at his desk from noon to 1 p.m., a time the office has traditionally closed.

“This acknowledges that most residents take their lunch from noon to 1 p.m.,” Ohler said. “Most offices here have been closed. We will start with the front office, and I am hoping the elective offices will follow our example.

Elected offices at the Town Hall hours are open 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m. (closed noon-1 p.m.), Monday through Thursday.

“A lot of what we are doing seems simple, but it hasn’t happened before,” Ohler observed. “People are very appreciative. Even if they don’t take advantage of it, just knowing Town Hall is open makes them happy.”

He adds that the accessible door on the east side of Town Hall now opens automatically, easing access.

“I look at the town as running a business, and the taxpayers are my customers,” he said. “I am trying to make the town customer-centric.”

Other initiatives are obvious at the landfill. “We’re showing the town what we are doing with the cleanliness of the transfer station,” he said.

An accumulation of discarded refrigerators and the like has been eliminated and the points for access and egress have been changed to facilitate flow. Transfer station stickers are now checked at the entrance to ensure only residents deposit trash.

Beyond the visual impact, he is addressing costs. “People know we all must pay taxes, but they want to know those taxes are working in ways that are beneficial,” he said. “I’ve put a moratorium on porous bulky waste until we can put a roof over the bin. We pay by the pound to dispose of it. What happens when cushions, carpets and sofas get wet? They weigh more.”

Similarly, separating food scraps from the waste stream will greatly reduce weight, an initiative he would like to put in place in late spring.

He admitted that not all measures he takes are popular. “I just take it as feedback. I do get some pushback from residents at the transfer station,” he said. “They think when they buy a sticker, it allows them to bring anything they want.”

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