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July 3, 2013
County abolishes planning boards

Planning and zoning commissions for Erda, Pine Canyon eliminated due to short funds 

It seemed the whole of Erda and Pine Canyon came out to protest the proposed dissolution of their respective planning and zoning commissions Tuesday.

However, after more than 40 minutes of discussion, the Tooele County Commission voted to combine the two independent boards with the Tooele County Planning and Zoning Commission.

The reason? To save about $15,000 a year and because of personnel concerns.

“For me, it’s a decision that pertains to monetary savings as much as it does time, and we used to have many more people than we do now in the building department,” said Tooele County Commissioner Shawn Milne.

The totalitarian approach was questioned by residents, some of whom suggested the frequency of meetings be reduced or resources shared between commissions rather than doing away with them entirely.

“Why not move it to having meetings every three months? That would cut down on the budget but allow us to have a say in our town,” said Staci Peterson, a Pine Canyon resident.

The plan to eliminate both planning commissions was first proposed in May during a county commission meeting.

According to an assessment given by Tooele County Recorder Jerry Houghton Tuesday night, each meeting of the Erda Planning and Zoning Commission, or Pine Canyon Planning and Zoning Commission, costs the county $538.

That amount doesn’t include the divided pay amount for time spent on meeting business and documents by a county attorney, clerk, recorder or other employee.

Canceled meetings, for lack of agenda items or other reasons, cost the county $93 each, while non-quorum meetings, where it’s discovered that not enough members of the board are present to hold the meeting, cost $449.

Houghton gave the assessment because his department absorbed what was left of the county’s former building and planning departments after budget cuts and department restructuring this spring.

Tooele County Commissioner Jerry Hurst explained to the audience that over the last year, eight of 18 Erda Planning and Zoning Commission meetings have been canceled, with another one turning out to be a non-quorum meeting.

He added, for the Pine Canyon Planning and Zoning Commission, 10 were canceled and there was one non-quorum out of the 18 total scheduled meetings. For comparison, the Tooele County Planning and Zoning Commission had one canceled meeting and two non-quorum meetings out of its 18 meetings during 2012.

Milne said while his five years on the Tooele City Planning and Zoning Commission carved out a warm spot in his heart for planning and zoning commissions, the county’s budgetary position and Erda and Pine Canyon’s chronic lack of agenda and participation, makes keeping their respective planning and zoning commissions impractical.

“I know how thankless a job it is and you’re volunteers. You don’t get a paycheck to do your job; you do it because you want to give back to your community,” said Milne. “But we’re in a pickle. When you combine these two costs for these two planning and zoning commissions, we’ve cut budgets that have meant the loss of personnel for less than these two combined, with the attorneys and planners and wages and such.”

With the dissolution of the two independent planning and zoning commissions, Erda and Pine Canyon will now be represented in planning and zoning matters by an appointed person from each area now on the Tooele County Planning and Zoning Commission.

Although Milne freely conceded that the greater county good did, in this case, give the shorter end of the stick to Erda and Pine Canyon, residents of the two townships attending the meeting were not mollified. The commission meeting did not have a period for public comment, but Tooele County Commission Chairman Bruce Clegg allowed time for opinions to be expressed. Several audience members offered suggestions regarding reducing meeting frequency or overall costs.

“The board will volunteer to go without, change meeting times, work with the planning department to go paperless, working with the planning department and commissioners,” said George Young, former chairman of the Erda Planning and Zoning Commission, reading a prepared letter from the planning commission. “We respectfully ask that you communicate with us to find an amenable solution other than dissolving the board, and return oversight to the local planning commissions.”

Others, especially those from Pine Canyon, seemed most upset about losing local representation of their zoning interests should the commissions be dissolved. Some suggested that one of the members elected last November be selected as a representative, rather than the appointed person now in that position.

“I’d like to figure out how to get the person who’s supposed to be representing Pine Canyon off the Tooele County Planning and Zoning Commission. How do we go about doing that? Because, we don’t feel like that person represents us,” said Gordon Beals. “I’d like to see that happen as soon as we can — immediately, if not sooner. I would really like to see that happen, and I think a lot of other people would, too.”

Beals’ comments were met with applause from the audience. Clegg said the commission would look into the matter.

After nine residents’ comments, which amounted to almost18 minutes, Clegg closed the impromptu open mic. Houghton said, given the budgetary and personnel cuts, he did not believe his office could do its daily job in addition to overseeing three planning commissions.

“We’ll continue to offer the same services no matter the outcome of your vote tonight,” said Houghton. “However, depending on the outcome of your vote, your budget saving requirements of these offices and of me may have to be revisited in order to meet any new requirements which were not articulated when you asked that we budget. I just want you to take that into consideration.”

Milne said he believed from the comments and overall audience response that the people from those townships wanted to make sure they had proper representation; however, the county’s resources will not allow for such luxury at this time.

“Many of you have commented that you don’t think the money is maybe not as important to you as it sure seems to be on this side of the fence, given the way this office has gone the last six months,” he said. “But to me, it is a big deal, and we’ve let people go for the amount that’s combined.”

Milne also suggested earlier in the meeting that Erda and Pine Canyon consider incorporating if they wanted more control over their borders and use of the land therein, and again urged those residents to consider that option.

The commission passed the resolution 2-1, with Clegg casting the one dissenting vote. Immediately after the motion, about 50 people — more than half of the total audience — got up and left. The next item on the agenda had to be postponed until the din of the moving crowd, both from their exit and the audible grumbling as they passed, dissipated.

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