County considers strategic plan update

Zoning in the works?

If the economy of the next several years looks anything like the present, the county may not be looking to put the Housing Authority into the hands of the municipalities, which is the goal stated in the county manager’s current Strategic Plan.



At a work session on Tuesday, June 9, county manager Matthew Birnie told the Gunnison Board of County Commissioners that so much of the Housing Authority’s operation depends on county departments that cutting it loose could be damaging to the organization.
The Strategic Plan is the first of its kind for the county and is being revised at regular intervals to keep the goals up to date with reality. It is meant to provide incremental goals for the county departments to help progress toward a long-term objective.
In the original plan, adopted May 20, 2008, the county was supposed to have identified different governance structures for the Housing Authority by early this year.
The goal was to allow for cost sharing among the municipalities that participate in the organization’s programs in exchange for an equal share of the benefit.  
During a review of the Strategic Plan, Birnie said, “I will tell you that I have concerns about this direction that I didn’t have before. I see how much support the county gives the housing organization and I’m worried about such a small organization being successful.”
Birnie pointed to the library district as an example, saying the Housing Authority could face the same difficulties hiring and firing personnel, obtaining legal counsel and conducting public meetings properly.
“So you think if we move in the direction of a more regional Housing Authority, it would lose that county support that is so important?” asked commissioner Hap Channell.
“I’m afraid of that,” Birnie replied. “I’m just concerned that it might inhibit the goal.”
By dividing the Housing Authority into equal shares among the municipalities, the county’s goal is to include the municipalities in the decision-making processes and in return the municipalities would get a greater sense of ownership in the Housing Authority.
But “with a stake comes some financial responsibility,” Birnie said. “And if folks can’t come up with the money… you don’t get authority without responsibility.”
Commission chairperson Paula Swenson suggested that instead of making mutual governance of the authority a goal for the next year, it should be a goal for the next five or ten years.
Birnie agreed, saying, “We’re not going to be able to fix all of the financial things we need to with our Housing Authority to make it move out from our umbrella and I don’t see the cities being able to step in and split costs anytime in this economy.”
A final goal for the Housing Authority in the Strategic Plan will be ready for review by the commissioners at a work session prior to adoption of the updated plan in August.
Many of the other 20 goals in the Strategic Plan also got revisions that will be discussed and reviewed. As time goes forward, the hope is to remove goals that have been reached and replace them with new ones.
In addition to the Strategic Plan developed by the county manager, each county department has to develop a plan of its own.
On Friday, June 19, the Planning Commission held a joint meeting with the Board of County Commissioners to flesh out the confusion about where the Planning Commission fits into the county’s strategic plan.
Some of what the planning department has in its strategic plan deals with the county’s effort to focus growth in certain areas and the Planning Commission has to make sure it understands those goals to maintain continuity in the decision making process.
“This whole idea of directing growth toward population centers, where we have central services and utilities, is really part of the broader picture,” said county commission chairperson Paula Swenson. “We’ve been talking about and around it, but we really are talking about zoning.”
Planning Commission chairman Ian Billick asked what the county commissioners were looking for from the Planning Commission on the guideline dealing with the location of future developments.
County commissioner Jim Starr said he was looking for a “workable guideline, workable policy. What I’m looking for is a clear policy on how we move in that direction to achieve the goal we’ve set out here.”
The Planning Commission also asked the county commissioners how strict they would like their guidelines to be.
“How far do you want it to go toward being a requirement, toward restricting any major development outside the three mile areas?” asked planning commissioner Ramon Reed.
Starr suggested the county might want to move in the direction of restricting growth in outlying areas.
“I think it’s time we go there for two reasons. Number one, we now have a state law that says we cannot create subdivisions that don’t have year-round access by road,” Starr said.
The second reason Starr gave was that if growth weren’t around municipal centers, under the new state law the growth would have to take place in river bottoms, which are accessible year-round but are also the lifeblood of the ranching community. The county has also set the preservation of ranching as a goal in its Strategic Plan.
But instead of writing regulations to limit the areas of possible growth, planning commissioner Richard Karas suggested that the Planning Commission research approaches the county might want to take.
“These are more political decisions that the Board of County Commissioners should make,” he said.
The commissioners agreed to review the suggestions the Planning Commission comes up with for the regulations after researching what has and hasn’t worked in other counties around the state, but no deadline was set for that research to be done.

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