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Should county residents be charged for zoning services?

Washington County Zoning Administrator Mike Rutherford is against the Budget Committee’s recommendation that his office move to a fee-for-service policy regarding stormwater assistance.
Currently, the department offers services such as site plan reviews and consultation on problems with stormwater at no direct cost to a contractor or resident of Washington County.
During the Aug. 1 budget hearings with officials, committee members questioned the $36,000 allocated for consultants in the 2013-14 Stormwater Management budget, which is designated to pay engineer Todd Wood to help the county provide such free services.
“Isn’t that the largest part of the budget?” Mayor Dan Eldridge asked, referring to the total proposed $46,000 Stormwater Management budget. “I think we need to go to fee-for-service paid for by the permits.”
Rutherford said Wood has other responsibilities for the county and the Town of Jonesborough.
“I can see from your perspective it would be hard to identify (the value), but I think we’re receiving quality service at a good price,” he said.
According to Rutherford, Wood is a certified Stormwater Level 2 Inspector who also serves as a liaison with the Town of Jonesborough and Bluff City. Wood is in the Zoning Office four half-days each month and by appointment to answer questions and review plans.
“So he has a monthly contract?” Eldridge asked. “Is he paid by the hour?”
According to Rutherford, Wood is paid a $2,500 monthly rate, but is paid more if he exceeds $2,500 worth of service in a month’s time.
“We will be in violation of TDEC (Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation) if we lose his service,” he warned.
Commissioner Mitch Meredith agreed services provided by the Zoning Department should be fee-driven.
Rutherford said Wood also assists residents who are having drainage problems.
“Here’s my concern — are we doing this for free?” Eldridge asked.
“Yes, it’s service-driven,” Rutherford confirmed.
Commission Chair Greg Matherly said he was a member of the committee that selected Wood.
“It was very hard to meet the TDEC requirements, and I was relieved when we found him,” Matherly said.
Eldridge insisted ongoing cost must be considered. “We’re talking about a department that has grown $600,000 in expenses and has flat revenue,” he said. “I’m glad we can provide the service, but I don’t think that was the intent.”
Total expenditures by Planning and Zoning during the last fiscal year were $568,000 compared to $152,000 in 2001.
Eldridge said most governments try to cover their services with fees.
Rutherford said he is out of the fee business. “Half of the commissioners expects revenue from an office run like a business, while the other half is in our office every day telling us to cut costs,” he said. “Since we’re the servants of the commission, I think you need to do (the cutting).”