The town of Amherst is located in the southern tier of New Hampshire in Hillsborough County on the western edge of the Merrimack Valley and the eastern edge of the Monadnock region. With a population of approximately 12,000 residents and a land area of nearly 35 square miles, Amherst is a growing suburban-rural community that has successfully maintained many desirable historic and rural characteristics.
Prior to adopting strategic governance in 2013, Amherst’s town government had endured three default budgets in five years. This was, in part, due to:
In 2013, Amherst adopted strategic governance and followed a clearly prescribed process. Town departments (Fire, Police, EMS, DPW, Community Development, Recreation, Town Clerk, Town Offices (administrator, Tax, Finance) along with the public library developed strategic plans by completing the 10 work activities in just four months (May-August). They have also used these plans to underpin their annual operating plans and budgets for each year since then.
The changes in town governance and in citizen support have been significant:
Department heads, selectmen, and the town administrator use strategic governance as the basis for multi-year initiatives, operational plans, and budgets. In public meetings, they use real-time tools to make trade-offs and and show impacts of various strategic scenarios for taxpayers. They also communicate and engage with residents so that everyone understands the process and the rationale for goal setting and decision making.
Most important, government officials measure and report on progress towards all goals, which are stated as citizen-oriented outcomes, so that residents can clearly see how they benefit from initiatives and investments. This has built an ongoing cycle of transparency and trust.
In each subsequent year, all plans have been refreshed in late spring to account for changes either within Amherst or those likely to impact the town from outside. Refreshed plans are presented annually to the selectmen, who use these plans as the basis for their annual operational planning and budgeting and for explaining to residents their intent and the elements that comprise the proposed budget. Department heads are now quite self sufficient in managing their strategic thinking and in presenting publicly. (Amherst strategic plans can be found at http://www.amherstnh.gov/board-selectmen/pages/strategic-planning-budget-process.)
The strategic plans of the various town departments reflect the vertical perspectives of functional groups into which town government is organized to do work. But there are broader, more horizontal, categories that, together, shape the quality of life for Amherst residents. The Board of Selectmen has framed broader strategic town priorities to serve as the basis for their decision making. These include:
As part of this process, department heads created 10 work products that, together, helped them understand past demands on their departments, upcoming trends and impacts, and ways to anticipate and meet future demands. These included: