$50,000 consultant plan up for vote Staffers drafting master plan say they need assistance

July 14, 1996|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

The County Commissioners expect to vote tomorrow on whether to spend up to $50,000 for a financial consultant that the Planning Department says it needs to develop a new master plan.

At least one commissioner, Donald I. Dell, is balking at the cost, arguing that the county already has the staff and expertise to handle such an endeavor.

County planners said a consultant is needed to help determine the costs of services, including roads, schools, public health and safety. A consultant would help find alternative funding sources for such services, they said.

Philip J. Rovang, county planning director, said a consultant also would determine what portion of costs are attributable to building of new subdivisions, and offer ways for that development to pay for itself.

"There is clearly a deficiency right now" in roads, schools and public health and safety services the county provides residents, he said. Without new sources of revenue, residents are "going to have to get out their checkbooks" or accept a lower level of service, he said.

He said a consultant could recommend "other new sources" of revenue to pay for the services residents deem essential.

The alternative to hiring a consultant, said Deputy Planning Director K. Marlene Conaway, "is to give you a plan without knowing the costs. The consultant puts in the dollar figures."

Responding to Dell's concerns, Rovang said the county eventually could get such financial information without outside help but that it would take his Planning Department staff months to acquire the expertise for drawing up a master budget.

Rovang said he feared that long delays would derail the planning process.

Officials have set an 18-month deadline to revise the master plan.

Although the county budget office has the expertise to handle the job, that department is occupied with other projects, Rovang said.

He gave the commissioners a copy of a letter from Budget Director Steven D. Powell that said: "In order to accomplish the [18-month] time frame established by the Board of County Commissioners, you will very much need to secure the services of an outside firm."

Powell said his staff "could certainly gain the expertise to assist" the Planning Department but the short time frame "will not allow [his] staff to dedicate the required hours to complete the study on time."

Additionally, Powell noted that his staff will begin work next month on preparing the fiscal 1998 budget and begin work on a five-year financial plan.

"We have great people on our staff," Rovang said, "but, sadly, we cannot use them without losing valuable time."

But Dell was adamant in his opposition to the request, complaining that the county had used consultants to no avail.

"We spent $25,000 on a road study [in 1990] that didn't tell us anything we didn't know," he said. "There are other things you are doing that you can set aside."

But Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown pressed for acceptance of the request. "The question is, do you want to manage growth?" he said. "How are you going to manage growth if you're not doing what the Planning Commission and Steve [Powell] recommend?"

Commissioner Richard T. Yates said he would support hiring a consultant if he hears from Powell that it is necessary.

The commissioners are to vote on the measure at 4 p.m. today.

Pub Date: 7/14/96

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