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No news is good news!

Dear Milford Neighbors,

As you read the below message from three of Milford's former and present Chairmen of the Planning Zoning board you will hopefully get a better understanding of what has transpired with the new department of permitting and land use and we truly hope that it gives everyone a better understanding. What’s of real interest in the letter as well as its content is the fact that it was signed by two Democrats and one Republican PZ Chairman and for that reason alone it surely has credibility.

Our goal is to have issues facing our City discussed openly by all of our neighbors and the more we can inform, the better everyone will be on the issues presented.

If you would like to write on ANY issue that is out there concerning our City, our Budget, our politicians or any other issue please either send it to me electronically or mail it directly to me at: Peter Spalthoff, 26 Broad Street, Milford, CT 06460

We all look forward to hearing from our neighbors and hope you will add your two cents.
###

Thanks,
Peter L. Spalthoff

April 23, 2014

Dear [Board of Aldermen Members]

As elected current and former representatives of our communities, with more than 20 years between us serving the City of Milford as Planning and Zoning Board Commissioners, we know that what you do is important, difficult and at times, unfortunately, thankless.  Please know, therefore, that our speaking out regarding the newly formed Department of Permitting and Land Use reflect genuine concerns regarding the re-alignment of the land use departments, and these concerns, expressed to your board before, reflect the views of many in our community.

As you know, this new department, formed by the Kimball Report Implementation Team, is a new item in the 2014 budget currently being reviewed by your board.  This department was formed by the merging of three departments—Building, Inland Wetlands, and City Planning—into one department.  The proposed budget reflects the cost of running those three departments and the salary of a new position, Director of the Department of Permitting and Land Use.

Comparing the budget request for this new department with the individual budgets for the once independent departments for FY 2014, shows that there is an 11% budget increase projected; this increase is comprised, in large part, of the salary for the Director.  (Salaries for all three departments in FY 2014: $830,229 and the Mayor’s request is $934,385 for FY 2014).  The total budget for these three departments: $892,752 FY 2014/$1,001,690 FY 2014.  This increase does not include the cost of the Parsons remodel to accommodate the merging of the 3 departments which has been suggested to be $145,000.  Part of the funding for this redesign and renovation is being funded through LOCIP Funds. 

The increase – the largest for any City department – represents a stark departure from the intention of the Kimball Report which was initiated by the Board of Alderman and paid for from City Funds.  In that report many recommendations were made to enhance the permitting process thereby ensuring better and more efficient customer service.  Among the recommendations:  Implementation of enhanced software; utilization of the City of Milford website; signage for Parsons Complex and a new staffing position, described in the report as a Permitting Authority or a concierge.

What the City has now is a position budgeted for a permanent Director of the Department of Permitting and Land Use who, according to the recently posted job description, has authority over three departments and professional staff, yet that position, paying $95,000 year, requires no land use experience, professional certification of any kind or post-high school education. During the almost 6 months that the interim Director has served the City, the operations of the three departments have remained pretty much the same; if anything the departments have less available resources than before this change was implemented in November of 2014.  This was brought into stark clarity during your most recent budget hearing: the overtime costs for these departments remain as they were, and not only has overtime costs continued during the past 6 months, but staffing shortages are projected at the same level for all of 2014.  As you know a key staff position (the Zoning Enforcement Officer) in the City Planning office remains unfilled, and a building inspector position in the building department has been removed from this year’s budget. 

In short, the City is currently paying $95,000 for a position that has not alleviated staffing shortages as the Director of the Department of Permitting and Land Use testified to during the budget hearings.

What the City wanted with the hiring of an outside firm to review the permitting processes in the City was a plan for addressing the concerns of developers and residents who found working with the various departments difficult and confusing.   But, the implementation of that plan has brought about little or no savings to the City and the key recommendations of the Kimball Report remain unfulfilled.  But, more importantly, the cost for a Director overseeing professional staff has in fact made it impossible for these departments to be fully staffed and deprived these offices of some technical upgrades that were recommended and are necessary to expedite the permitting process.

As your board makes decisions on the budget, you are, as in good years and not-so-good years, left to make decisions about what is working and what is not as well setting the priorities of the City.  Everyone has their own view; however, the cost to the City of a regular, full-time employee (including benefit package that will add at a minimum 10% additional cost for the position) overseeing the professional staff of three departments seems a very high price to pay when the City is cutting teachers or decreasing funding in other City departments or services.  What makes the Director of Permitting and Land Use more important than preserving certain teaching positions?

In the case of the Director’s position, the City has had almost 6 months to review the progress of the changes envisioned by the implementation team, and the benefits to the City that that position has brought.  We don’t believe that a fair and impartial look at what was envisioned by the Kimball Report and what has been delivered meets the vision of Kimball nor does it come close to satisfying the needs of the City. 

The City needs to get the most value for their taxpayer’s money.  We believe that if a position such as this is added to the City budget, this position should increase departmental efficiencies by providing customer service through a one-stop concierge service as envisioned in the Kimball Report.  Further, as outlined in that report, providing customer service through development of internet tools that assist permit seekers with accurate information would go a long way to decreasing individual visits to various Land Use offices.  Moreover, planned GIS upgrades—previously partially budgeted—should be implemented and inter-departmental information flow enhanced through electronic upgrades; all of which would allow professional staff to focus on their core jobs rather than attending to the myriad of questions and frustrations that arise everyday and could be handled by a mid-level employee.   These affordable changes will help decrease overtime costs while providing builders and residents with quality and prompt information.

In addition to the known added costs of this implementation, there is also the unknown impact of pending grievances by union administrators. It would seem mandatory that this be dealt with before any position is funded.

We believe, that the City does not need to hire a permanent Director.  However, if deemed necessary, that a job description be more in line with the goals set forth in Kimball—a mid-salary position where the duties emphasize the customer service aspect that is at the heart of the Kimball Report.  Moreover, interdepartmental and extra-departmental communication needs to be enhanced through electronic upgrades that allow information to be shared across departments as well as providing basic land use information on the Milford City website.

An alternative scenario:  “pause” further action and concentrate solely on the technology

up-grades; if necessary a tech consultant hired with oversight provided by a city administrator.  At the end of the next fiscal year evaluate the need for any further change.

It doesn't make sense to us for the Board of Alderman to be looking at cutting overtime, consolidating copier costs and looking into cheaper ways to publicize announcements among the three departments without giving very serious consideration to the thousands and thousands of dollars the City is spending—and will continue to spend year after year—for a position that is not, in its present form, able to provide the full range of customer service objectives and departmental efficiencies that were the objectives of the City’s own funded report. 

Please know that we understand the enormous responsibility you have and we hope you understand the value we place on your service to the City.  We hope that with the understanding that we are all working together for a better Milford, that you consider our concerns and suggestions seriously.

With all respect,

Susan Shaw
Chairman, Planning and Zoning
203 874-0115

Jeanne Cervin
Past-Chairman, Planning and Zoning
203 878-1665

Jack Jansen
Past-Chairman, Planning and Zoning
203 215-4825

Thank you for your understanding and support of the The Milford Initiative. Help us make a difference in Milford by joining today.


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