Vader hires planner Rob White to ‘modernize’ city ordinances

Stephen Floyd

The Vader City Council has chosen to use the contracted planning services of Rob White, with North Creek Consulting, in a move Mayor Ken Smith said will bring the city’s outdated ordinances into the 21st Century.

Vader had been advised by City Attorney Carol Morris in January of the need for a planner, given its efforts to strengthen nuisance laws as well as a number of ongoing lands use and zoning issues. Morris had specifically recommended White based on his performance as a planner for the City of Ruston and his reputation within the industry.

But when first examining White’s proposed costs of $150 per hour and a $300 monthly retainer, Smith said the charges were far more than Vader had anticipated, and the idea of contracting with White was put on hold.

Smith later reported, when exploring alternatives, his office did not find other contractors offering White’s thorough scope of services and had been informed by other planners Vader would do well to have White working for them.

Stating it was his impression the city would get what they pay for, Smith told the council last month Vader had approached White once more to attempt negotiating lower rates and were informed, due to a new junior position filled within North Creek Consulting, lower rates were indeed available.

“It (the contact proposal) represents a significant reduction in costs to the city,” said Smith while following up during the April 10 council meeting.

White had proposed a rate of between $82.50 and $125 per hour, depending on the individual performing the work, and a two-year contract for two years, with Smith stating it would likely cost the city between $10,000 and $12,000 for the initial administrative tune-up of its ordinances.

“If you ask the mayor for his opinion, I would say it’s worth every dime,” stated Smith.

Among the services proposed for the tune-up would be an evaluation of all the city’s current ordinances to locate redundancies, contradictions and outdated language, among other concerns, which would generate recommended changes for the council to consider. This would be on top of cataloguing and publishing the city’s ordinances online, which would be covered under White’s regular services.

“If we can do this, we will be set,” said City Clerk Jill Neilson, “All of our ordinances will be up-to-date regarding planning and development, all of our permitting processes, all of our fees, all of that will be perfectly up to the most current standards…I can’t tell you how important that is because not being up to current standards leaves us at a huge liability.”

When asked to approve the contract, officials said they were pleased to hear their ordinances would be brought in line with modern standards and practices, and would eventually allow the city to take action against chronic nuisance violators.

“I don’t want to see us spend money, but I’m sick and tired of sitting here and people saying, ‘Why don’t you do this?’ and we don’t do anything,” said Councilor Kevin Flynn. “We’ve got people sitting around making junkyards out of our city and we have no teeth and are not able to do anything… If this is what we have to do to get something done, then I’m all for it.”

To pay for White’s initial services, the council opted to create a $12,000 budgetary line item with funds from a surplus expected to carry over from the 2013 general fund. Neilson said current estimates place the surplus at just under $36,000, though definitive numbers will not be known until the books are officially close next month.

An ordinance transferring the funds, as well as setting aside $22,000 from the surplus to seek matching grants for parks and road improvements, will be presented to the council at their next meeting.

Also to be discussed at future meetings will be the reconstitution of Vader’s Planning Commission, which Smith said has been requested by White. Neilson indicated Vader has not had need in recent years for the help of a planning commission, which consists of five persons appointed from within the community, but increases in requests for land development have brought back the need for such a body.

The next Vader City Council meeting is scheduled for April 24 at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall. Those with questions or in need of accommodations may call (360) 295-3222 beforehand.