Lemoore Mayor: Bye bye city planning department

By Ed Martin, The Leader Editor

The City of Lemoore’s mayor, in a staff report to his fellow council members, is suggesting that city leaders take drastic steps to counter adverse decisions they in fact recently created. (See Siegel's staff report) Mayor William Siegel is recommending the immediate elimination of the city’s long-time planning department and the Code Enforcement Officer, which he says will save the city $305,044.

The Leader obtained a copy of the staff report even though it hadn't been posted on the city's website. The Leader attempted phone calls to each council member but none of them responded.

Mayor Siegel, who was recently appointed to sit on the budget review committee, and has spent the last few weeks reviewing the city’s various departments, stated in his staff report that the City was recently required to make a one-time payout of approximately $179,000 to former City Manager Jeff Briltz, who was recently forced to resign. Additionally, he stated that the city has ongoing costs in the amount of $125,000 to complete staffing levels in the city’s police department, and help pay for an increased compensation package.

In short Siegel is recommending the Planning Department be gutted in large part to pay the costs of the council’s decision to force out Briltz and effectively sacrificing the city’s ability to plan for sustainable growth.

The city’s planning department is responsible for a multitude of services which include plan checks, implementing zoning codes, administering grants, enforcing codes, continually revising the General Plan, keeping up zoning maps, processing planning applications, and planning for the city’s growth, which recently topped 25,000 in population.

In an effort to recover the costs associated with these expenditures and potentially find other cost saving measures, the budget committee reviewed every city department’s proposed budgets with the main objective of providing improved service to the citizens of Lemoore.

“The community and employees can then begin to recover from any loss of confidence that may have resulted due to the change of leadership,” stated the staff report.

The Leader has learned that the three staff members currently employed in the City’s planning department were effectively told not to report to work tomorrow. The staffers, including long-time planning director Holly Smyth, were issued leaves of absences.

The planning department has two full-time employees, one of them Smyth. In anticipation of an increased workload, which included the possible award of a large grant, the Planning Department was asking to increase a part-time employee to full time.

According to the report, Mayor Siegel expects the city’s engineer, Quad Knopf, to pick up the slack, putting in three days a week on-site as well as performing their normal engineering duties. Recognizing that there will still be a need for in-house services, the mayor is recommending that oversight of planning functions be assigned to the Public Works Director with the assistance of project managers. To perform clerical duties, a current full-time assistant in another department, he says, will be relocated to the Public Works Department.

In addition, the report recommends elimination of the code enforcement officer and transferring the duties to the police department, which would mean an increased work load for the police department.

The report concluded by stating that the savings achieved by eliminating the planning department and the Code Enforcement Officer is estimated at $305,044, and identifying these areas where cuts can be made … provides immediate security for all other city employees for the coming fiscal year. Additionally, it provides for the recovery of costs associated with providing additional funds to the police department and the loss of the former city manager.

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