After more than two decades of contracting for planning services, the majority of that time being in a joint operation with the City of Clinton, the county is venturing out on its own with the development of the Department of Inspections and Planning Services. The new office opens Monday.
The county-provided planning services will include Anita Honeycutt Lane as senior planner, supervised by Myron Cashwell as director of Inspections and Planning and assisted as needed by the new full-time county attorney Joel Starling. Another planner position will be hired soon.
“The hiring of the last position is imminent,” Assistant County Manager Susan Holder said this week. “We are excited to begin this new process for delivering permitting services as a ‘one-stop’ service. The co-location of Inspections, Planning and Environmental Health will, we believe, enhance our customer service. The newly reconfigured office area should allow us to efficiently serve our visitors.”
Inspections, Planning and Environmental Health will all be located within Building B at the County Complex
For convenience, particularly to contractors, the joint office is open earlier and stays open later than some of the county’s other offices. Hours will be 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
The new department was approved by way of a 3-2 split vote of the Sampson Board of Commissioners last year and the process has been in the works ever since. Earlier this year, the lobby and customer service desk was redesigned to allow clerical personnel from each of the agencies to serve visitors. The hirings of Lane and Starling were also made.
Lane previously worked as an assistant Register of Deeds in Sampson for 13 years and for the Farm Service Agency for seven years before that. She also worked alongside her father, local contractor Clyde Honeycutt.
“Certainly her experience with real estate and land records, aerial photography and GIS, and her familiarity with contracting, inspections and permits are transferable skills that will benefit the county,” County Manager Ed Causey said when announcing her hiring. “But just as important to us are her superb customer service skills, and, as a lifelong resident of the county, her knowledge of our communities and her demonstrated desire to serve our citizens.”
Starling will providing guidance to Lane and the Sampson County Planning Board, whose members will stay the same for the time being. He will also fill the re-created position of county attorney, effective July 1. There has not been a full-time attorney for the county in nearly a decade. The board voted unanimously in April to create the position of county attorney and to employ Starling at a salary of $125,004.
“The hiring of Mr. Starling reflects the Board of Commissioners’ strategic consideration of how to best develop and deliver our planning services,” Causey stated at the time. “As county attorney, he will be on hand to provide direct and comprehensive counsel on procedural and regulatory matters.”
Cashwell is a long-serving department head of Inspections who currently oversees five inspectors and administrative staff.
“His seasoned management skills ensure the success of the department’s new organizational structure,” Causey said of Cashwell. “We are appreciative of his willingness to lend his talents to our new endeavors.”
For the 2018-19 budget, the planning function will bring a net increase to the Inspections budget of approximately $155,000. There was an additional $63,000 in one-time expenses, mostly for building improvements.
The new venture did not come without some opposition. When proposed, the potential move was criticized by planning officials and a couple commissioners who touted the existing operation and questioned starting something completely new.
In July 2017, Board of Commissioners chairman Clark Wooten directed Causey to investigate the feasibility of a potential implementation of a county planning department. Two months later, Causey delivered a proposal that included a two-person office, combined with the Inspections Department. The matter was initially tabled, then approved the next month.
“We’ve invested years and years into this and it’s like watching something you’ve created implode,” Sampson County Planning Board chairwoman Ann Naylor said in the wake of that October 2017 vote. She specifically cited the loss of “invaluable” institutional knowledge, including Planning director Mary M. Rose and her staff of five. “The county will truly be at a deficit.”
Causey conceded there would be a learning curve “to be able to efficiently operate the program,” but Wooten called the move “an opportunity to stand on our own and go forward.”
“I think there are people who bring a fresh perspective,” Wooten said last year. “To think nobody else can do that job is a little-bit shortsighted.”
Causey said the county was indebted to city planning staff for guiding county officials through the early years of subdivision regulation and zoning implementation, as well as land use and comprehensive transportation planning initiatives since the partnership started in 2004.
While that chapter was ending, Causey said he was excited about what lies ahead. Holder echoed that sentiment this week.
“We would be remiss if we didn’t once again thank the City of Clinton for partnering with us since 2004 to provide planning services,” said Holder. “Their assistance has been invaluable as our services have evolved.”