Zoning board member questions plan to remove assistant city planner job

A move to eliminate the assistant city planner’s job has at least one Planning & Zoning Board member worried, and she hopes people will speak against it as the 2014-15 budget process moves forward.

“I know of several who are deeply concerned about this current budget cut,” said P&Z member Jeanne Cervin (D-2). “I hope that many more will speak against it as the word gets out.”

The Board of Finance struck the position from the budget books recently when it met to complete its portion of the budget process. At the meeting, the board voted to eliminate the assistant city planner’s job, saving $77,000, and to add an additional building inspector, which will cost about $54,000.

There was a movement to eliminate the assistant city planner’s position once before, following the release of a study of the city’s land use departments. The study suggested department reorganization. But residents rallied and argued to keep the job in place.

It was 2009, as the city was adopting a report by the Kimball Report Implementation Team (KRIT), which recommended eliminating the assistant city planner’s job. Democrats on the board at that time voted to keep the position, except for Ben Blake, who was chairman at the time. Blake, a Democrat, voted with the board Republicans to eliminate the job. But Blake and the GOP were outvoted, and the job stayed, according to a letter that Cervin wrote at the time.

“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.

Along with other responsibilities, she assists and educates the P&Z Board with the numerous Coastal Area Management applications and flood plain issues that arise.

“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.

“Why would we seek at this vital time of threat to our shoreline to remove such an  educated and experienced planning resource,” Cervin said.

Mayor Blake has said he is continuing to implement the KRIT report: He recently named the director of permitting and land use to the post of chief zoning enforcement office in line with KRIT recommendations.

Also, when the finance board was considering adding a building inspector, Blake urged members to make up for the additional funds somewhere else in the budget to keep spending increases to a minimum.

It  will take a two-thirds vote from the Board of Aldermen when the budget gets to them to retain the assistant city planner position.

“I hope that all Board of Aldermen  members will inform themselves of the assistant city  planner's job responsibilities and will be are aware of what the city stands to lose: An action that appears to be ‘taking  from Peter to pay Paul’ that in the end will leave the city without,” Cervin said.

Next the budget plan moves to the Board of Aldermen. A public hearing is scheduled for 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.