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Published: Wednesday, 2/6/2013

Seneca County Commissioners get outside ideas on regional planning body

BY LISA SWICKARD
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE

TIFFIN — Seneca County commissioners met before a packed house of residents during the first work session Tuesday to discuss the future of the county’s Regional Planning Commission.

Jill Griffin, regional planning executive director, explained the duties of that agency include such things as planning and development of land use, infrastructure, and promoting economic growth in Seneca County.

Since the commission was formed in the mid-1990s, its mission has become blurred, said Commissioner Fred Zoeller.

“I certainly see the merit for regional planning, but I think it needs to be more focused and more specific,” he said.

“We need to make sure we’re receiving full value for the taxpayers’ dollars.”

Tiffin Mayor Aaron Montz suggested one way to do that would be to merge the Regional Planning Commission with the Seneca Industrial and Economic Development Corp., an agency that primarily serves the City of Tiffin.

“I believe it would save on costs, especially with the talk of shared services [the possibility of housing a combined county and city justice center in a new courthouse],” the mayor said.

He proposed the city and county explore housing the two agencies in the same building.

“Why are we separating all the grant writers when we could put them together and have them work as a team?" Mr. Montz asked.

“I certainly see the benefits of working together on grants.”

The commissioners — all three sit on the Regional Planing Commission board — agreed to continue discussing how redefining commission goals and expectations can be cost-effective for the county.

The twice-monthly work sessions, held a half-hour before regular meetings, have been enacted by the new board as a way of opening dialogue between the commissioners and the public without formal board action.

Commissioner Holly Stacy was pleased with the unusually high attendance and upbeat exchange of ideas.

“That’s the reason for these work sessions,” she said. “The three of us just can’t go meet with somebody because of the open meeting laws, so this gives us the avenue to have that discussion.”

In the regular board meeting, the commissioners opted to scale back the payout to which county employees are entitled upon retirement.

State law says counties may allow nonunion employees to carry over one to three years of unused vacation.

The accrued time is “bought out” by the county upon retirement, meaning the employees are paid for unused vacation.

Until now, all Seneca County employees have been allowed two years’ carryover.

To decrease the financial burden on the county, the commissioners agreed to return the vacation buyout policy to the one-year state minimum.

Employees who have already accrued the carryover will have the opportunity to use the time before retiring, according to County Administrator Stacy Wilson.



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