A Golden Opportunity

Loudon County has been handed a golden opportunity on a silver platter. Let's just hope they take it. For years Loudon County Planner, Russ Newman, has been spending money like there was no end to it. Well, that bad habit has finally caught up with him.

Fed up with Newman, Lenoir City council has now pulled out of the planning program and has left Newman scrambling to find a way to keep his hooks in the tax payer's pockets. Newman presented a budget request to commission Monday night for $155,804.00. That would require the county to kick in $130,804.00 and the City Of Loudon to add another $25,000.00 to the kitty. There was no mention from Newman that he was planning to reduce his $67,000.00 annual salary even though the loss of Lenoir City could mean a reduction in his work load of 50% or more.

Commissioners had asked about the possibility of going back to using the state planning office as they had for many years before Newman and his predecessor were hired full time. The cost of using the state planning office would be $11,250.00 per year. Commissioners also asked Mayor Doyle Arp to look at possibilities of combining the planning office with the building inspectors office.

Newman's reckless spending and ridiculous salary finally broke the planning bank and the county has already had to pay extra money just to keep the planning office afloat through June. Mr. Newman's planning abilities, or the lack there of, have been a disaster for all of Loudon County and now he wants more money to continue the destruction.

In the past, Newman had hidden behind interlocal agreements with Lenoir City and Loudon as reasons he could not be terminated. But now there are no agreements. Commissioners have been handed a golden opportunity to eliminate Mr. Newman once and for all. Loudon County officials should follow Lenoir City's lead and dump this dead weight while they have the chance.   

Planning commission discussed during county workshop
Mary E. Hinds News Herald

The future of the Loudon County Planning Office was discussed at Monday evening’s county commission workshop when commissioners informally agreed to rescind the interlocal agreement between the county and Lenoir City in light of Lenoir City voting to withdraw from the planning office and handle their own planning services in house.

The planning office was already short of funds due to a slowdown in building which prompted the commission to approve contributing an additional $14,200 to the planning office for fiscal year 2008-09 earlier this month.

Traditionally the planning office has been funded by the county (71 percent), Lenoir City (17 percent) and by the City of Loudon (12 percent). The commission now must decide between continuing to fund the office or subcontracting planning duties to the state. Another option would be to combine the planning office with the building commissioner’s office. 

The meeting began with Martin Brown of the Loudon County Regional Planning Commission urging the commissioner to support the planning office, describing it as “vital to our communities.”

He said a return to using the state for planning services left the regional planning commission with little support. “It would be a major step backward,” he said, adding “we depend on Russ (Newman, county planner). We don’t always agree with Russ, but he provides guidance.” Martin said having Newman always available has kept the planning commission “out of trouble” with lawsuits. He acknowledged something needs to be done including consolidating the planning and building offices during this economic downturn.

“There could be some savings there,” Martin said. 


Loudon County Planner Russ Newman took the floor to take questions from the commissioners and to discuss his budget request for 2009-10. Loudon County Mayor Doyle Arp reminded the commission that a decision on whether or not to fund the planning office must be made by July 1 for the new budget. Newman said he was submitting a total budget request of $155,804, which he said was 26 percent less than last year’s request. Newman said the City of Loudon would be contributing $25,000 leaving the county to foot $130,804 and all fees collected in the City of Loudon would be remitted to the county to underwrite the cost of the office’s operations. He also said $15,000 of that money would be used to comply with the state mandated storm water program which calls for new permit requirements. Newman said his office had collected $38,000 in fees last year that went back to the county. Arp said the collection history wasn’t relevant since the economic downturn was sure to lower the amount significantly.  


Newman said his office was down to two full-time employees since the assistant planner’s position was cut to conserve funds. He also said there would be no cost of living raises for either himself or his fellow employee. Commissioner Nancy Marcus asked if the departure of Lenoir City from the planning office would lighten their workload. Newman said that with two cities and the county the office was spread pretty thin and the lessened workload would allow the office to provide more time for Loudon and Loudon County’s planning needs. She then asked if employee time could be cut but Newman said with the office consisting of just himself and one other person that would not be practical. 


Arp said the only alternative to the planning office would be to subcontract planning services to the state which would cost $11,250 per year. He said the county commission needed to decide “which way we need to go by July 1.” 


Arp also said Greenback and Philadelphia also use the planning office’s services. “They rely on the county,” he said. Arp also said one alternative was to consider combining the planning office with the building inspector’s office. “The two will have to work together” to make that work, Arp said. 


Commissioner Don Miller said he was keeping an open mind and the planning office was such “a local thing” involving individual citizens and doing away with the office could “cause more problems.”


Commissioner Bob Franke agreed saying he had a planning question from one of his constituents and Newman had an answer by the end of that day. Both Miller and Franke mentioned if planning was done by the state it might involve delays and a lack of accessibility for planning questions.