Planning staff coming to county

By Chris Berendt Staff Writer

February 9, 2014

The county is trying to help residents avoid a zoning and permitting process that can take them multiple different places to get what they need. Working toward a one-stop shop of sorts, the Clinton-Sampson Planning Department will begin preparing to rotate staff at some county offices later this year.

Following budget sessions in December and January, county staff and officials with the joint planning department investigated the feasibility of co-locating a planning staff person in the offices of Inspections, adjacent to Environmental Health, to produce a better convenience for those who have planning, zoning, inspection and permitting matters.

Many now have to travel back and forth from the Clinton-Sampson Planning offices on Lisbon Street in Clinton to the County Complex on Rowan Road in order to get all tasks accomplished. This could help alleviate that.

“We want to move forward and try it to see if it can work and see if we can work the bugs out of it,” expressed county manager Ed Causey. “We don’t see any major roadblocks to prevent us from trying something. We’re shooting to see if we can make something happen around July 1.”

Clinton-Sampson Planning director Mary Rose said the department is in the process of hiring another planner. Once it does, that new person would be trained and, along with two existing staffers — senior planner Lyle Moore and Code enforcement officer/GIS technician Jimmy Fannin — would be able to assist on a rotating basis.

“The proposed rotation will offer several employees with varying levels of experience (to be made) available to the citizens of Sampson County,” Rose remarked. “Due to the fact we will be rotating employees to the Rowan campus, we would need to maintain computers and office space at our current location so these employees can continue work on other projects when they are not at the Rowan campus.”

There would be nominal one-time expenses including a computer, a desk, a couple chairs and a filing cabinet to be located in both the Inspections and Environmental Health offices, Rose noted. Additionally, a GIS license at a satellite location would be an annual $750 expense.

Inspections director Myron Cashwell said there was currently office space that could be utilized, so no restructuring or renovation was necessary.

“All Planning Board agendas, meetings, map review, manufactured home park administration and detailed project work and consultation will continue to be accomplished at the current Planning Department location,” Rose commented. “As planning director, I would adjust my schedule so as to be able to visit the Rowan campus as frequently as is necessary to evaluate this process during this trial period.”

For the Clinton-Sampson Planning Department, Rose has noted a 75-25 split in county planning and zoning matters to those involving the city. She said it is not at all uncommon to have all five employees in the department working on county matters at any given time, although that is subject to change by the day.

The Board of Commissioners previously inquired as to whether the county might save money by having its own planning department. Rose said it would not only take more funds, but available resources would take a hit.

“Sampson County could spend the same amount of money they’re spending right now and have a two-person Planning Department, which in my professional opinion … could not properly manage all the General Statute responsibilities associated,” she said. “At a minimum, it would take three employees to manage countywide planning in Sampson County.”

It would mean limited ability of the Planning Department to assist other departments with mapping and other special projects, and come with a price tag that is a minimum of $30,000 more a year than the current collaborative effort.

Rose pointed to the expertise offered by a staff with diverse abilities and work experience. Tooling with the department’s staff could provide efficiencies for the short term, but ultimately those efficiencies would be lost and customer service would take a hit.

Many have noted that customer service could be improved with the addition of a one-stop shop. Key departments heads in land development services involving vital permitting, notably Planning, Building Inspections, Environmental Health and Register of Deeds, are not located in the same place.

“In the big scheme of things, obviously folks coming to one place is going to be better than them having to go to two places,” said Cashwell.

Environmental Health officials have said such a one-stop shop, or even a planner at a joint location, could be a positive as an education tool in answering questions. Commissioners said the rotating planner at county offices would fulfill a need.

“I think this is a step in the right direction,” said Commissioner Billy Lockamy, who says he hears plenty every day about the issue. “I really get hit with this from contractors to electricians to plumbers (saying) ‘why don’t you get one place where you can get all things at one time?’ And for the citizens too, I think this is well worth it.”

“I think we’re heading in the right direction,” said Commissioner Harry Parker. “A lot questions are being asked, and they’re being solved.”

Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at