BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County has ended its 60-year working relationship with the state’s local planning assistance office, County Planner Ambre Torbett said Thursday.
Torbett said she asked for the change, in part citing growth of the county’s in-house planning capabilities and a need to shift the funding elsewhere within the her department’s budget.
All that was required to cancel the county’s contract with the state was for County Mayor Steve Godsey to give the state 90 days notice, Torbett said, and Godsey recently did so.
Sullivan County first contracted with the state for planning assistance in 1948, the year the Sullivan County Regional Planning Commission was created.
In 2000, the Sullivan County Commission created the full-time planning director’s position and Torbett was hired.
“When I was hired, the county decided to keep the state contract to assist me on development of the land-use plan and other long-range projects,” Torbett said. “And they have.”
Staff from the state’s local planning assistance office had basically worked with the Sullivan County Regional Planning Commission — and that’s her job, Torbett said.
“We are at the point of continuing to streamline things in-house,” Torbett said. “It was really a budget concern. We wanted to customize the (state) contract, but they don’t do customized contracts. We really didn’t need them to attend Planning Commission meetings. But we wanted to customize it so maybe they could do Board of Zoning Appeals meetings, or manage our stormwater plan or something of that nature. But that did not work out.”
The county’s contract with the state for the current fiscal year was for $13,500.
Torbett said she plans to ask for that money to remain in her department’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year, and be used to expand the county’s contract for GIS mapping services.
Geographic Information System maps help track all sorts of information, such as property parcels, city limits, growth plan boundaries, zoning designations, and planning guidelines, and they can be used to pinpoint demographic data such as home addresses of students in a local school system or income levels in a particular area.
The county currently budgets $31,500 per year to an outside contractor for GIS services, Torbett said — enough to get the contractor to the county’s planning office a couple of days a week.
“He does all our mapping, all our zoning updates, all the annexation mapping changes, special projects like the Overmountain Victory Trail plan mapping and Battle of Blountville Trail mapping — and customer service,” Torbett said. “And he downloads all of the new updates of the aerial mapping. There’s a lot going on, and he does all the mapping.”
GIS is an important support tool for daily rezoning requests, as well as new development in the county, Torbett said.
The $13,500 that had been going to the state will go toward expanding that contract, if Torbett’s upcoming budget request is approved by county commissioners.
In all, the county is budgeted to spend about $359,000 on planning department-related items, Torbett said.