Assistant city planner explains merits of job as officials consider eliminating it

Milford’s assistant city planner, whose job is on the chopping block during the ongoing budget process, has written to city leaders, explaining the importance of the position.

The Board of Finance struck the position from the budget books during its part of the budget process, cutting the $77,000 position while adding a building inspector at $54,000.

It will take a two-thirds vote of the Board of Aldermen to reinstate the post, and some local environmentalists, and the assistant city planner herself, are hoping the board does that.

Emmeline Harrigan, the assistant city planner, has written to the Board of Aldermen asking them to maintain the position.

“I do this not only as the current assistant city planner, but as a resident of Milford and as a planning professional who strongly believes that eliminating this position could be detrimental to the city,” Harrigan wrote.

She said Milford is one of the busiest development communities in the state due to its role as a regional shopping corridor, a desirable bedroom community with easy highway and rail access, and as a coastal community with desirable waterfront development sites reasonably priced when compared with Fairfield County.

In addition to many other responsibilities, the assistant city planner is the primary point of contact for development along the shoreline and coordinates Coastal Site Plan Reviews as mandated by state statute both administratively and for the Planning & Zoning Board’s review, Harrigan wrote.

“The [assistant city planner] is also the city’s floodplain manager, who acts as the point person for project reviews within the floodplain, coordinates FEMA map reviews, and with other planning staff, explains flood insurance requirements and flood hazard requirements to the city’s homeowners,” Harrigan wrote.

Milford has 4,000 structures within the flood zone subject to these regulations which represents approximately one sixth of its housing units, she added.

“Following the Irene and Sandy storms, the assistant city planner’s floodplain manager role expanded to include extensive review of over 900 damaged properties (6 days/week for 3 months) and significant weekend and evening outreach meetings,” Harrigan wrote. “Approximately 85 damaged structures have been reconstructed or elevated after both storms which represents only one quarter of the total recovery needed. The assistant city planner position is essential in assisting in the shoreline redevelopment and recovery process, which is ongoing.”

Mayor Ben Blake said during earlier budget discussions that one reason to eliminate the assistant city planner job is because in 2009, a committee that studied the city’s zoning process — the Kimball Report Implementation Team (KRIT) — recommended the job be cut.

But Harrigan said the team didn’t have its facts right.

“The KRIT report incorrectly states, (p. 20) that the assistant city planner’s position ‘…devotes substantial time to code enforcement and the issuance of zoning permits’,” Harrigan wrote. “It was thought at that time by the KRIT committee that the assistant city planner was a redundant position to the zoning enforcement officer and that it therefore could be eliminated and merged into the city planner and inland wetlands officer positions.”

She said the assistant city planner, city planner, zoning enforcement officer and inland wetlands officer are “distinctly different.”

Planning and Zoning Board member Jeanne Cervin has questioned the removal of the position.

“I wonder if the members of the finance board who voted for this removal actually understood the job responsibilities of the assistant city planner?” Cervin said. “It's probable that most assumed that it is, as the job title implies, assisting the city planner. Not so.”

Harrigan wears numerous hats, Cervin continued.

“As a certified flood plains manager, one of the few in the state, and an expert on  the changing  FEMA regulations, she  has guided many residents and officials through the aftermath of the last major storms,” Cervin said. “With climate change confirmed, Milford has burgeoning long-term coastal challenges.”

Local environmentalist Barbara Milton also questions the move.

“As of this week, the city has an expert in coastal and flooding issues on board and her name is Emmeline Harrigan,” Milton said. “She is currently Milford's assistant city planner and an expert on Connecticut's Coastal Area Management Program (CAM) and FEMA regulations, and one of a small number of federally certified flood plain experts in our state. She has also been working to improve the city's rating for the Coastal Resiliency Program by pushing the city to purchase, protect and restore our title wetlands in order to secure up to $400K worth of funding from the feds.”

She added that it makes “sense” and “cents” to keep the position.

The job is expected to come up as the budget process moves along. Next, the Board of Aldermen will hold a public hearing Thursday, April 3 at 7 p.m. at Milford City Hall. Departments will meet with the board in April, and the board votes in early May.