Keeping Planner Newman Afloat - Taxpayer Bailout!
Planning Office -
Under Arp's thumb or Executive Planning Council?
March 31, 2009
By: Pat Hunter
First the taxpayers bailed out Wall Street, the auto industry and now its time to bailout the Loudon County Planning Department because he's sinking quickly.
At the March 23rd Budget Committee meeting, Mayor Doyle Arp informed the Budget Committee that several meetings were held with Planner Newman about budget and funding issues. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that he’s broke and what it will take to keep him afloat, said Arp. Planner Russ Newman will require $20,000 to keep him afloat through the end of this fiscal year. The current fiscal year began July 1, 2008 and will end June 30, 2009.
Planner Newman introduced Chairman Charles Harrison with the Executive Planning Council. Newman was asked about the planning office staff. Newman explained how a third person was hired in the planning office to deal with the workload at the time. The employee has since been laid off. The planning office receives revenues from government entities of Loudon County, Lenoir City and Loudon City, fees and reserves. Lenoir City will no longer participate in the interlocal agreement with the County and Loudon City.
As the economy started to drop in the last 2 ˝ years, permits and fee collections started to drop and development activity started to slow down. As a result operating costs started to depend on reserve balance, which the planning department had and fees had not gone up to replenish that. Based on the estimates prepared by the Finance Dept. Planner Newman informed the Budget Committee that there would be a shortfall of $20,000 by the end of this fiscal year.
Newman said that the funding mechanism had worked for 14-years but now the situation has changed. The planning department is having a revenue shortfall to meet the current budget, which was adopted. Had we known that we could have made some budget adjustments, Newman said. “I take credit for that” and I should have known the reserves and done a better job on the budget and projections.
Adjustments have been made, expenses are between $10,000 - $12,000 per month and $17,000 in revenue is available and $20,000 will be needed for this fiscal year. Based on the current interlocal agreement allocation, Loudon County would be responsible for seventy-one (71%) percent of that, which is a little over $14,000 Newman concluded.
Budget Commissioner David Meers asked about operating one office and Mayor Arp said that was a possibility. Loudon City is presently paying $12,120 but that amount would double according to Newman.
Mayor Arp told the Budget Committee that fees went “down the tube” since January 1; so far about $20,000 was collected in fees for the first 6-months. The bottom dropped out. Planner Newman spoke about the average fees collected, which was $35-$40,000 annually. The highest fees collected were about $70,000 in 2005-2006; 2004-2005 was $46,000; and 2003-2004 was $30,000.
We need to talk about next year because if we’re going to change operations, we don’t want to wind up with the same mess as the highway road superintendent.
Budget Commissioner David Meers asked about other planning offices in East Tennessee and Planner Newman said that other planning offices were not set up like Loudon County. Most are governmentally funded and they collect fees that go into the general fund like any other city department. Loudon County was setup to provide services to three governments and Newman was not aware of any other government that was set up with this structure. Mayor Arp mentioned that in Blount County the planning office worked for the Mayor. Mayor Arp wanted to know where Planner Newman spent most of his time but Newman could not answer that.
Commissioner Miller wanted some organizational options and Mayor Arp said that he would get the information. Mayor Arp asked, what do want to do about the current 08-09 budget. The Budget Committee approved the additional funding.