Why cut assistant city planner now?

The position of assistant city planner is one that the Board of Aldermen should talk about as the budget process moves along.

This week the 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.

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.”

What is also concerning is that when the KRIT report was adopted, the Board of Aldermen voted against removing the assistant city planner’s job. That raises the question, did the aldermen — some of the same aldermen on the board now — make a mistake? Or have circumstances changed? It would seem there is more need now, since we are post-storm.

If circumstances have changed, someone should explain those changes to the public before reversing a previously made decision.