Traverse City Record-Eagle

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January 22, 2014

Changes, one layoff likely for GT Planning Department

TRAVERSE CITY — At least one employee could lose his job as the Grand Traverse County Planning and Development Department adjusts to disappearing grant money.

Planner Jeff Vitton likely will be laid off as county officials cope with several changes to the department’s non-general fund money sources.

“It is what it is,” Vitton said. “It’s not like I did anything wrong or there’s any ill will whatsoever. It’s just the nature of the economy right now as well as it being a term-limited position that was grant-funded.”

Vitton said his position is 50-percent funded by Brownfield grant funds through the Environmental Protection Agency. That money was supposed to last for five years. Vitton said the planning department instead spent it in just three years, largely while cleaning up the Hotel Indigo Brownfield site.

The planning department also lost $25,000 in Brownfield administration funds because of requirements in state law, and learned two housing grants from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority will not be implemented in 2014, according to county documents.

Another planning department employee, planning technician Midge Werner, is set to retire soon. Planning department officials want to replace her position with a new “office specialist” who will take care of the department’s office duties, county Administrator Dave Benda said.

Planning Director John Sych said the department will be “missing a certain level of expertise” if those changes are made. He said the department can contract out some of its planning work as needed.

“When you aren’t able to have this consistent funding source, you have to make these types of adjustments,” Sych said. “We’re just responding to what we’re able to do based on the resources we have.”

Benda said the changes to the planning department are independent of the Grand Traverse County Commission’s department-by-department review of county expenses. Commissioners vowed after the 2013 budget process to look everywhere for costs to cut as they try to close the county’s structural budget gap.

Benda said it’s not clear if the planning department changes will help the county’s bottom line.

The county board will discuss the planning department changes during a committee meeting Wednesday.

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