Does Town Hall need so many consultants?

The value and use of consultants can be debated into eternity. For instance, using them to develop a tree ordinance I feel is a waste of money because there are just as efficient and more cost-effective ways to obtain the desired ordinance without paying a consultant.

However, that is fodder for another column.

The Town does have an immediate need for a consultant whose expertise should, over the long-term, reduce costs to the Town and residents. I came to this conclusion after sitting through Monday’s Town Council meeting where Fiscal Year 2013 budget was adopted.

During the budget’s Public Hearing, Blythewood resident Tom Utroska asked about funding for future capital items, specifically $225,000 for a fire station in FY 2014 and FY 2015, and $1,200,000 in FY 2017 for a Sheriff’s substation.

When asked how the town would pay for these items John Perry, Town Administrator, said a portion of the cost would be paid with grants and the remainder of the costs obtained through shared funding. One can speculate that this means the Fire Department and Sheriff’s Department will contribute funding. But the “5,000 pound elephant” in the room is “How is any remaining cost recovered?”

Does the Town incur more debt or does the Town tax the residents?

Blythewood’s growth will, at some point, require tax revenue to obtain the infrastructure and service needs of the growth. This point was emphasized by Councilman Ed Garrison, who explained items detailed in the capital budget included “Future Needs.”

However, it is the Town’s responsibility to minimize the cost impact of these needs to the residents. One method to reduce costs is to create and adopt a formal schedule of impact fees for developers and builders.

As Planning Commission Chairman, I broached this subject with town leadership and was told that the commission and I should develop these fees. This was impossible since we neither had the expertise to write a fee schedule nor the budget to hire someone to develop them.  But the Town should investigate the feasibility of developing such a schedule and hire the appropriate consultant to develop a schedule of fees. Several South Carolina municipalities have successfully implemented impact fee schedules that have been court tested.

The Town can begin the process this weekend while attending the Municipal Association of South Carolina’s Elected Officials Conference. Seek out officials of towns that have a fee schedule and ask how they did it and who did they use to develop the schedule?

Yes, a consultant is really needed!