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Budget woes may trim planning funds
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With its budget woes in mind, the Liberty County Board of Commissioners is considering pulling funding for a portion of the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission funding.
Like the county’s impending hikes for municipal services, the move could have a ripple effect on cities’ relationships with the planning body, whose three primary functions are zoning, engineering and inspections, and the Hinesville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.
County Administrator Joey Brown said the county is about a 42 percent funding partner for the group, which in fiscal-year 2013 will receive $254,196 from the county for services.
“When we got into the finance committee meeting last year, we were looking for a way to generate or save money, and that was what we came down to,” Brown said.
“There had been some thought given at one time about trying to reassume some of the duties that LCPC is now contracting with us to do and take those back in house — not that they’re not doing good, not that they’re not doing bad, but from a finance-committee perspective as a way to try to save some money.”
The LCPC fiscal year runs July 1 through June 30, on the same schedule as the county fiscal year. Because each of the municipalities also supports the LCPC operational budget, the entities could be affected by the county’s decision.  
According to a chart provided by Brown, the commission was budgeted for nine employees with a total salary and benefit cost of $764,601. As budgeted, salaries — with benefits — for the nine-person staff range from $39,000 to $142,000. At least one position, however, is vacant.
With salary and operations combined, the organization’s budget is $1,185,101.
The LCPC is controversial; commissioners in previous meetings have besmirched the body’s recommendations and have questioned its purpose.
“HAMPO’s got to be there under law, because we’re now a metropolitan statistical area … you’ve got to have somebody to do your transportation funding, and that’s partially funded by federal funds,” Brown said.
Taking over zoning would require a longer transition, Brown said. This year there were about 12 zoning requests in the county area.
Brown said the easiest duties to perform with existing county staff are site inspections.
“The next step, I think would be, if you were going to look at something like that, would be doing the engineering as it’s needed, versus paying 42 percent of a full-time benefit package, and just contract with someone whenever you have a development come into the county,” Brown said. “We actually had two developments this year come into the county.”
District 6 Commissioner Eddie Walden said he advocates moving away from the LCPC, citing the high amount of salaries.
District 3 Commissioner Connie Thrift said she agrees.
“I think whatever we need to do within this board, and come to a consensus, and with the chairman’s approval, that we could select some folks on here to get this thing headed in another direction …,” Walden said. “Right now, I think it would be prudent for us to look at an alternative. Each city has expanded and annexed, and our little piece is getting smaller and smaller, and I don’t know that we can afford to do this.”
District 4 Commissioner Pat Bowen asked staff to provide a breakdown of costs associated with taking some of the inspections and engineering functions in-house.
Hinesville funds the largest portion of LCPC operations, at about $400,000 in FY13. After the county follows Walthourville, with about $50,000. Midway provides about $25,000. Allenhurst, Flemington and Riceboro each contribute between $8,300 and $9,700. Gum Branch contributes $3,155, and Long County also uses the services with a $4,000 contribution.
The board did not take action on the matter and is expected to revisit the topic.

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