Finney County commissioners on Monday continued discussing the possibility of creating a separate planning department, a decision that would sever an interlocal agreement between the county and the City of Garden City.
Neighborhood and Development Services Director Kaleb Kentner presented information to commissioners on different counties’ planning departments to aid in commissioners’ decision. He presented documents showing how other counties with zoning regulations ran planning departments, used their staff and managed building codes. He said Sedgwick county may be the most comparable to Finney County since both run joint planning teams.
Commissioner Dave Jones said he is not a big supporter of leaving the interlocal agreement, fearing it might weaken communication between the city and county. If the county did choose to develop its own planning department, he suggested keeping the zoning board and planning commission as they stand now — a partnership between the city and county.
To Commissioner Bill Clifford, the decision is a matter of money and control. For the first time, making a separate department would be slightly cheaper, he said. For 2019, County Administrator Randy Partington estimated that a separate department would cost the county $203,500, a slightly less than the $203,962.50 it paid for Garden City's 2018 planning services. It also would give the county more power over its own codes and regulations.
“I think control is what frustrates us and the citizens, we commissioners especially. Whatever we do, if we rewrite the agreement or abandon it, we want better control.” Clifford said.
The joint planning department currently rests under the mantle of Garden City, but Kentner said it might be possible to discuss flipping the script and putting the county in charge.
Kentner said the current dual department could be strenuous from a management standpoint and that growing communities in Garden City, Holcomb and around Finney County may expect more from the one department.
Holcomb also holds an interlocal agreement with Garden City when it comes to city planning and would have the option to join the county’s separate planning department in the event of a split. Holcomb City Administrator Robin Lujan told the county commissioners on Monday that the Holcomb City Council has not officially discussed the matter, but she thought the city may join whichever department more closely resembles Holcomb’s codes and regulations.
County Commissioner Lon Pishny asked Kentner if the city and county commissions could change the nature of the interlocal agreement without abandoning it, creating opportunities for more input and accountability within the same, basic structure. Chairman Larry Jones said he just wished the department’s processes were simpler.
By the end of the meeting, commissioners agreed they wanted to meet with the city commission to discuss an updated, simpler interlocal agreement. The plan is still in flux, but the county and city commissions have until July 1 to decide whether they want to extend their standing agreement to 2019.
The next county commission meeting is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. May 14.