Newman Out?

Loudon County Director of Planning and Zoning, Russ Newman, met with Lenoir City officials Monday night hoping to secure another five year contract to provide planning and zoning services for the city. Not all city councilmen were sold on the idea. In fact LC mayor Matt Brookshire was the only one who vocally expressed support for the idea. It seemed that most of the council was leaning to providing their own planning services in house.

Councilman Eddie Simpson strongly supported the idea of the city taking over their own planning. Simpson pointed out that the city is at a point where they really need to handle their own planning. Simpson stated that with the work load currently on the Lenoir codes office additional staff was going to be needed and the funding currently going to Newman, $21,000.00 per year, combined with fees collected could be used to fund the new position and would then allow codes officer, Lesley Johnson, to take over planning responsibilities for the city.

The two hour meeting covered a variety of topics pertaining to the change. Most of the council seemed to be in favor of taking over the planning responsibilities but some were concerned about the funding of the office. There was even a suggestion by Councilman Tony Aikens to put the matter on the agenda of the next council meeting for a vote. That suggestion came after Brookshire stated that only a couple of councilmen supported the elimination of Newman as planner for the city. It was ultimately decided that the city would ask for a change in the contract from a two year opt out to a one year opt out and bring the matter to another workshop for further discussion.

Newman currently provides planning for the county, Lenoir City and Loudon. Newman's planning office has recently fallen into financial difficulty with the current downturn in construction and development. At a recent commission meeting, it was reported that the planning office would be out of money by mid February. One of the three planning office employees has been laid off. Newman told council that at least another $25,000.00 would be needed to keep his office operating through the fiscal year.

The county has already voted to accept the agreement with Lenoir City and Loudon. Loudon nor Lenoir City have yet voted to sign on to the agreement. Chances are that if any one of the three local governments pulls out of the funding agreement, the planning office would likely close.