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EDITORIAL: Planning and zoning shouldn’t be a second-rate county service

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The lead headline in Thursday’s News proclaimed Perry County’s planning and zoning department to be in crisis. That wasn’t journalistic exaggeration. The resignation of Planning and Zoning Director Jim Gogel and the lack of funding that reduced the only employee to part-time status doesn’t bode well. It also doesn’t sit well with us because we believe planning and zoning should be a focus of county government, not an afterthought.

We agree with Board President Robert J. Harding that county leaders who control funding don’t consider planning and zoning, and all that it entails, a priority.

We know as well as anyone that the county budget is tight and we can understand the move, albeit it unfortunate, to eliminate the office-assistant position. But to cut by more than half the hours the director of zoning is able to work makes little sense. There were other options.

Perry County already has light regulation of building and there is little oversight of building projects. Unlike Spencer County, where inspectors visit construction sites to check foundations, electrical wiring and other major components of work, our understanding is that once a building permit for a home or other project is obtained in this county, owners have to count on the integrity of contractors to do good work.

We also suspect there are a good number of projects for which permits are not sought and violations of zoning rules go unnoticed, or at least unchallenged.

We think a solution might be at hand, though perhaps not popular in the courthouse. We think council and commissioners need to find a way of moving the nuts and bolts of the planning and zoning office into the courthouse and under the auspices of an existing office or offices. We would point to the recorder, auditor or assessor’s offices, as those employees already have roles in land-use issues.

We see no reason why someone in those offices, or perhaps a team of several employees, could not be trained to approve and issue basic building permits, answer questions about zoning maps and serve as a convenient filing point for complaints and alleged violations.

Perhaps a team of two or three employees could learn those duties and share the workload.

Another idea would be to ask the county surveyor to shoulder some of those duties.

That would leave the part-time director of planning and zoning to focus his or her time on enforcing zoning rules and targeting rulebreakers. Hubert Voges was hired to serve the part-time hours of the administrator and we believe he has the skills to do a good job.

Many workers are being asked to do more in their jobs. County employees should be no different and elected leaders should take steps now to work with officeholders to find the best way to provide effective planning and zoning for the county, now and in the future.

County workers don’t draw large salaries but we believe there is time and talent for some courthouse employees to learn planning and zoning tasks.

Perry Countians deserve effective planning and zoning. That’s no luxury. Someone needs to step up and provide a solution to ensure our zoning rules are not only up to date, but enforced. That will provide a welcome guide not only for current landowners, but also those looking to move to or invest in the county.

Our view: Editorials reflect the opinions of the newspaper.

Your view: Tell us what you think. Send e-mail to us at editor@perrycounty news.com or mail your comments to P.O. Box 309, Tell City, IN 47586.