Sunday, April 17, 2016

My View: Boone County planning costs likely to double

  • Cathy Ward

  • By Cathy Ward

    Posted Apr. 16, 2016 at 4:56 PM

    A costly, challenging time faces Boone County taxpayers in the wake of the county’s controversial divorce from its decades-old Belvidere-Boone planning agreement.
    The 8-4 vote by the County Board in February for this breakup is likely to at least double the costs for its planning department’s basic needs.
    Before the vote to terminate the agreement, urged by Board Chairman Bob Walberg, county taxpayers’ share of the costs totaled $50,000 or less a year. Last year the cost was $30,000. That included free office space and a secretary, all at city cost, and two full-time planners.
    The county’s current plan, to be voted on April 20, is to hire planning consultant firm Fehr Graham, which has a Rockford office, at the cost of $1,230 a week for just 10 hours a week. That would be $63,960 a year for very part-time work, and the county would still need to find office space and provide people to staff the office for 37.5 hours a week.
    Easily those costs could hit $100,000 a year and probably more to cover the night meetings from various planning committees. If the county ends up hiring a planning firm such as Fehr Graham full time, it could cost more than $200,000.
    Right now, in what I call an emergency situation, four Boone County staff members, including Administrator Ken Terrinoni and Senior Building Inspector Drew Bliss, have been pressed into immediate service to respond to planning requests that range from permits to build a garage to a lengthy text amendment.
    In addition, DeKalb County has agreed to help us with our planning needs part time at the cost of $70 an hour for a couple months.
    I agree that we need the immediate help of Fehr Graham to bridge the gap until we hire a full-time staff to serve our people. That’s our responsibility. I will vote for it as a very short-term gap.
    Unfortunately this divorce signaled to our Belvidere friends (half of the people in the county live in the city and pay county taxes) that our cooperation with them is very expendable.
    County Board members who voted for this divorce were Walberg, Sherry Giesecke, Denny Ellingson, Ray Larson, Jeff Carlisle, Karl Johnson, Brad Stark and new board member Cory Lind.
    Those of us firmly opposed were Sherry Branson, Ken Freeman, Craig Schultz and me.
    Unfortunately, this divorce comes at a critical time in our county's history as a new train proposal looms before us and no experienced Boone County planning veteran is on staff to help us do intense research on this project.
    Cathy Ward is a member of the Boone County Board.