The Finney County Commission discussed the costs and ramifications of setting up a separate planning department for the county in a work session meeting on Monday, a conversation that will continue at next week’s joint meeting on Monday.

Garden City’s Neighborhood and Developmental Services Director Kaleb Kentner addressed the commission, answering questions about the impact of a separate planning department and offering updates on a draft of the county’s comprehensive plan. If the commission decides to create a separate department for Finney County, they would have to notify the City of Garden City by July 1 so both bodies would have time to adjust their budgets for the upcoming year, County Administrator Randy Partington said.

“Whether we stay with the city or separate, I think, either way, we can make it work. I think this really is a decision for the commision of what they feel is best,” Partington said.

The county has run its planning department through a joint interlocal agreement with the City of Garden City since 1995, Partington said. Through this agreement, the county pays the city for planning services for the county.

If Finney County were to create its own department, they would have to hire three employees: a planning and zoning director, inspector and code compliance officer, and a permitting tech and administrative assistant. They could also delegate the permitting tech and administrative assistant roles to a current employee, meaning the county would only have to pay for two new employees, Partington said. During the separate department’s first year, the county would also have to pay for office space and necessary equipment, the costs of which are still unknown.

Under the two-employee model, Partington estimated that a separate department would cost the county $203,500 a year, an amount close to the $203,962.50 the county paid for Garden City’s planning, code enforcement and nuisance violation services for 2018. For the first time in the agreement’s history, the expense of separating the departments would be a wash, Kentner said.

“I see there’s a lot of pros going into it and there are some cons to that, and I think you can balance those out depending on how you set it up and move forward…” Kentner said of the possible split. “When it’s one department doing it, it becomes a city issue when it’s not a city issue … or it’s a city issue, it’s not a county issue. There’s a mixing in there that happens because we’re combined.”

The commission spoke with Kentner about what they should consider when making their decision, including whether a separate county department should be more or less stringent when it comes to zoning, building codes and other regulations.

Kentner said business owners prefer in-place zoning and regulations so they have guiding principles and so they know they won’t be surprised by new rules. Finney County Economic Development Corporation President Lona DuVall, who sat in on the meeting, said regulations also create a sense of consistent quality and safety for local businesses.

Near the end of the discussion, commissioner Bill Clifford, who sat as chairman in the absence of Larry Jones, listed some key pros and cons of the decision to separate. On the plus side, the split would increase accountability among the separate city and county planning departments, it would open the door for more clear cooperation and cost less, he said. However, he said it would also involve a difficult hiring process, risk unnecessary duplication of services from the city and county and be complicated to coordinate.

On Monday, the commission will meet with the Garden City and Holcomb commissions and discuss the decision’s impact on a wider scale, Partington said. Holcomb currently also has a joint interlocal agreement with Garden City’s planning department and would have the choice to join Finney County’s department should it branch off. Kentner suggested, should the county make its own department, the county and city departments should still meet and collaborate regularly.

“If you have your own department, the county department and the city department, and Holcomb … would work with one or the other. If we all went together on that, those staffs … I think we could still keep the connectivity and work together as a team effort,” Kentner said.

The commission also discussed the draft of the county’s comprehensive plan with Kentner. Kentner said earlier that day he had received a more recent draft than the one commissioners had reviewed, so discussion was limited. Commissioners asked that the next draft be more in-depth and to correct the many typos.

All county commissioners except chairman Larry Jones were present. The upcoming joint meeting will be at 11:30 a.m., Monday, in the Carol Brown Conference Room at the Finney County Administrative Building.

 

CORRECTION: The original version of this article incorrectly stated the time and place of the joint meeting. The joint meeting will be from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Monday, May 7 in the Carol Brown Conference Room at the Finney County Administrative Building.