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Ottawa County in process of dissolving its ‘outdated’ planning commission

BY Monday, September 28, 2020 04:04pm

Update: The Ottawa County Planning Commission voted unanimously on Sept. 28 in favor of a recommendation to dissolve the public body. The Ottawa County Board of Commissioners is expected to take up the issue in late October.

WEST OLIVE — Ottawa County is considering a plan to dissolve its planning commission, which local officials call an “outdated government layer” that could be repurposed in other areas of county government.

Ottawa County Planning Director Paul Sachs COURTESY PHOTO

The county planning commission will vote Monday night on a recommendation to the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners, which is expected to vote next month on repealing a 1989 ordinance that created the planning body. 

Ottawa County Planning Director Paul Sachs said discussions over disbanding the planning commission have been ongoing for about the past year, and the move has support from commissioners.

“Because of the pandemic, the planning commission has not convened a meeting since last November (2019). Then we began the assessment for the planning commission in exchange for more specialized commissions the county operates,” Sachs said.

The county’s specialized committees that include affordable housing and brownfield redevelopment are “far more effective” as a governing agency than the generalized planning commission, Sachs said. 

County officials are also considering initiating a groundwater commission and broadband authority to help address issues with internet access, he said.

The planning commission had been discussing large-scale efforts around affordable housing, groundwater and agricultural land preservation before it stopped meeting nearly a year ago. Sachs expects the planning commission’s work to continue in different formats even after it’s disbanded. 

“The planning commission has served its purpose over the last 30 years, but as we have continued to be one of the fastest-growing counties over the state of Michigan, our ability to pivot to be more effective in how we approach planning will be our best use of our resources moving forward,” Sachs said, adding that each Ottawa County municipality has its own planning agency. “The planning commission has become — for the lack of a better term — an outdated government layer.”

Disbanding the planning commission will not affect the county’s planning staff, Sachs said, adding that staffers will likely take over more responsibilities. 

The county’s planning commission is advisory and makes recommendations to the county Board of Commissioners. 

According to the recommendation under consideration Monday, the “agricultural, commercial, recreational, health and transportation interests that the County Commissioners wanted the Planning Commission to coordinate can best be served in 2020 and beyond by specific initiatives and special committees of the County Board of Commissioners.”

Additionally, “the advantages of streamlining and simplifying government by eliminating an unnecessary governmental layer serve the more fast-paced needs of society and its emerging problems in 2020 and beyond,” the recommendation says.

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