It makes sense for city, county to consolidate planning departments

Published 10:13 am Friday, June 8, 2012

With the retirement of Bob Gardner as the City of Bainbridge Building Official and Inspector and the departure of Paul Soudi as Decatur County’s Planning Director, the time is right to create one office that would serve both the city and the county.

Currently, Deputy Bainbridge City Manager Dustin Dowdy is heading up the city’s planning division and the inspector’s position is vacant. At the county, the planning director’s position is vacant and Craig Smith is the county’s building inspector.

For a variety of good reasons, a shared office handling these services makes sense for both governmental entities.

Email newsletter signup

First, the county is facing a budget deficit of roughly $1.5 million going into the new fiscal year that begins July 1. Sharing the expense of providing these services would offer some much needed financial relief to the county. And while the city, whose fiscal year starts October 1, doesn’t appear to be in as bad of shape as the county, the cost savings gained could be utilized elsewhere.

The city, to fill the void left by Gardner’s retirement, contracted with SAFEbuilt, a third-party provider of building department services, at a rate of $1,750 weekly, covering a time period from June 12 through July 31. The company will review building plans and perform inspections each week, Tuesday through Thursday.

The county has yet to fill the planning director’s position since Soudi’s dismissal in early April.

Construction activity levels both citywide and countywide do not justify filling both of these positions. Now is the time to use a little ingenuity and creativity to save a little money for both the city and the county.

The expenses associated with operating a planning and inspection department could be on a percentage basis, according to activity within each jurisdiction. Secondly, the continuity and ease of doing business would increase by sharing these services.

Much has been made on these pages about the county’s permitting fee structure. The county commission approved a new fee structure at its May 22 meeting. While the new structure is a vast improvement over the previous schedule, it is different from the city’s fee structure.

With a combined office, there would be one permitting fee schedule for both the city and the county. Whether that is the city’s current fee schedule, the county’s current fee schedule, or some variation of either, the simple fact contractors and builders would know exactly what the fees would be, regardless of the location inside the county lines, would be a major step forward.

Lastly, a move like this would help attract jobs and industry to our community. Creating an atmosphere conducive to job creation should be at the very top of the list of priorities for both the city and the county.

Competition is fierce locally, statewide and regionally to attract job-producing new industry. We must find ways to best position ourselves to take advantage of every opportunity that comes our way in the economic development arena.

You never know what might be key in the decision making process for such a prospect. Having one office, with one contact, with one fee structure, regardless if a prospect is looking at a location in the city limits or in the county, might just give Bainbridge and Decatur County that extra needed edge to win over a new company or industry.

It is time for Bainbridge City Manager Chris Hobby, who has indicated to me that he is in favor of coming to the table and discussing the possibility, and interim County Administrator Gary Breedlove to find a way to make this work. And with a little creativity, it can work.

Then, I would hope that the city council and the county commission agree that combining the two offices is the practical and logical route to take.

Jeff Findley is the publisher of The Post-Searchlight. You can email him at