Wednesday, June 6, 2012

County planners to cut costs for 2013

Department strives to increase awareness


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

The Blaine County Land Use and Building Services Department has stated that it won't request an increase in its fiscal 2013 budget and will try to cut its expenses.

"There is not a request for anything additional, and the request has been reduced by 8 percent in the B budget [for general expenses]," said department Director Tom Bergin in a county budget hearing Monday morning.

The department's salary request stayed the same after having received a 1 percent increase last year.

Bergin told county commissioners that department employees have shifted roles and taken on more responsibility over the past year, though the department is one planner short compared to last year following the departures of Shana Schwietzer and Jeff Adams.

The most difficult task that the department faces is educating the public, Bergin said. Planning processes and permit applications can be complicated, and Bergin said his department is dealing with more "do it yourself" applicants rather than professional real estate agents, developers and contractors.

As a result, the department has initiated a "pre-review" process to help those unfamiliar with permitting processes.

County Building Official Bill Dyer said the pre-review helps reveal potential problems with any application and allows them to make corrections as needed.

Bergin said another main goal of the department is to increase public awareness of issues and reduce the number of appeals that are predicated on lack of notice.

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For example, the Land Use and Building Services Department is required to publish notice of its public hearings in a newspaper of record, specifically the Idaho Mountain Express. It also must distribute written notice to neighbors of the property in question within a certain radius.

Bergin said his department does see cases in which a decision is appealed due to lack of adequate notice, and now aims for "perfection."

"We want to do everything we can to make sure [an appeal] is on the substance of the matter and not the process," he said.

Bergin said the department is also seeking to use the county's revamped website to give members of the public information that will help them participate in the hearing processes on a higher level.

"We didn't want to hear people say, 'I knew about this, but I didn't have access to the data that would have let me participate in an intelligent way,'" he said.

Budget hearings for county departments are still being held, and no decisions will be made before the preliminary budget is set in August.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com

Land, Water and Wildlife Levy sets 2013 goals

The county's Land, Water and Wildlife Levy staff member stated Monday that if all current applications are approved, the county will contribute $889,000 to conservation easements throughout Blaine County. The money comes from the Land, Water and Wildlife Levy, a $3.4 million levy weighed on Blaine County taxpayers for the purpose of preserving open space. The sole recipient of levy funding so far has been the Flat Top Ranch Co., for the preservation of 1,100 acres of sagebrush.




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