October 2, 2012 10:18:20 AM
Every Supervisor at the table seemed to agree: Oktibbeha County needs a comprehensive plan.
But when Mike Slaughter, of the urban planning firm Slaughter and Associates, spoke to the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors Monday morning, more than one eyebrow was raised.
Aside from the fact that the county is already under contract with the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District for similar consultant services, more than one supervisor expressed reservations concerning how much land-use restriction would come from a comprehensive plan.
Slaughter kept his composure, though, and explained his position succinctly: A county like Oktibbeha, with rapid growth and development that seems likely to continue, needs guidance and direction on where the county wants to be in 20 to 25 years.
"If you are a county official or member of the board, this is about a long-range fiscal health plan for the county," he said. "If you're a citizen, it's about a long-range quality of life. "It's about making sure the growth is orderly and sustainable."
Instead of allowing the county's developmental face to be shaped by out-of-town contractors, Slaughter argued that having a comprehensive plan gives the citizens and the board control over how they want to see the community developed down the road.
If completed, a comprehensive plan could address land-use issues and provide the legal basis for a zoning ordinance, but it could not act as the legally- enforceable document for the ordinance. A separate zoning ordinance would have to be drafted but would abide by the outlines for development in the comprehensive plan.
Slaughter made every effort to ensure the board understood that a comprehensive plan and a zoning ordinance would be two completely separate documents, prepared separately with the only relation being the zoning ordinance's reliance on the guidelines set forth in the comprehensive plan.
"On one side we have a comprehensive plan, with no legal teeth in it at all," Slaughter explained. "Then you have a zoning ordinance, prepared after and based off the comprehensive plan, that is legally enforceable.
"I believe in some high-growing areas like Oktibbeha County, I really believe you need a certain level of land-use control."
A land use plan, which, again, would set up a framework for a zoning ordinance, is one of four elements a comprehensive plan must have in order to conform to state statutes. Slaughter said Oktibbeha would also need to list its goals and objectives and include a transportation plan and community facilities plan.
District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery appeared anxious and skeptical as Slaughter went through his presentation, and when land-use restrictions were brought up during a question-and-answer period later, the supervisor was blunt.
"The land-use restriction thing scares the bejeebers out of me," he said. "I just want to make sure the land-use and zoning ordinances are separate."
Since 2009, Oktibbeha County has been under a $275,000 contract with the GTPDD to develop a comprehensive plan, but with little to show for the three-year partnership aside from an updated 911 emergency response system, the county might be ready to look in another direction, according to District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer, who said the implementation process "got stuck."
Board President Marvel Howard suggested that the board sit down with GTPDD Executive Director Rudy Johnson and get input from him prior to making any moves with Slaughter.
If contracted, Slaughter said the process would take him no longer than 12 months and would cost the county around $35,000.
But Slaughter added that without public input, the plan would be ineffective.
"We have to cultivate that information about what the county needs, and from everyone," he said. "Inventory is the first step in a comprehensive plan."
In other board business, a 2012-13 fiscal budget of $735,980 was unanimously approved for the Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority, which will invest some of that money into the still-emerging, regional economic development agency that includes Lowndes, Clay and Oktibbeha.
"I am personally convinced that we are sitting on the best property this county has had," said OCEDA President Jack Wallace said of the real estate at the Thad Cochran Research, Technology and Economic Development Park. "We are really positioned well for the future."
The Thad Cochran Research Park recently welcomed Renasant Bank and the National Strategic Planning and Analysis Research Center, whose lease began on Monday.
"We are full right now," Wallace said. "Our lease income will definitely be up this year."
In other action, the board voted to authorize the purchase of 15 2013 Dodge Chargers for the Oktibbeha County Sheriff's Department.
Part of a lease-purchase agreement, the department will receive the 2013 models at the 2012 price and will also sell all their vehicles older than 2009.