By CARL SMITH
Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors President Orlando Trainer said documents releasing the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District from a prior comprehensive plan agreement have been signed, which in turn will allow the county to enter into a similar agreement with Oxford-based planning firm Slaughter and Associates.
Slaughter previously told the board in October his agency could handle developing such a plan within a year at a cost of approximately $35,000.
In 2009, the board reached an agreement with the GTPDD to develop a comprehensive plan, but software issues involving geographic information system (GIS) mapping delayed the initiative before additional planners could be tasked to create the document.
This week, Slaughter said the plan could be completed between six to nine months.
A comprehensive plan would have to satisfy four minimum elements set by state legislation: establish goals and objectives, and develop plans for land usage, transportation and community facilities. Slaughter, who has worked in the planning field for over 20 years, said his firm most recently partnered with Tate and Union counties on similar plans.
“More and more counties want to get into planning these days, and we’re currently in the process of talking with other counties to do their comprehensive plans. It’s something that has been trending upward for a while,” he said. “A lot of towns in Mississippi lie outside metropolitan areas and have lost a lot of population — the Delta, for example. College towns bring economic stability, and there is a lot of potential for future growth. I commend the county for looking to prepare for the future.”
Any plan the group develops will include input from county residents and community leaders, Slaughter said, and will be properly vetted by the county. Establishing goals and objectives, he said, is a focal point for understanding what kind of plan county citizens want. If the board proceeds with the contract, it is expected numerous public hearings will be held in the future.
“(Open meetings) … is where we actually get the input from supervisors, citizens and leaders of the community, including business, industry, finance and church leaders. We have to know what is important to the residents as it impacts residential, commercial, industrial areas, community facilities and infrastructure,” Slaughter said. “It’s not what Slaughter and Associates thinks, it’s what citizens and community leaders think is important when looking 20 to 25 years down the line. There could be housing shortages, medical improvements and grassroots movements for stronger schools. We have to have a barometer for where this county wants to be in the long term.”
Slaughter said his group will use the data compiled by the GTPDD during its recent county inventory when developing a land-use plan. That plan, he said, should not be confused with a zoning ordinance.
“Land-use plans have no legal enforcement behind them at all. With a comprehensive plan, a land-use plan can give you a guide best suited for land uses in particular areas. It doesn’t have the teeth to tell a land owner or developer what they can or cannot do,” he said. “Certainly every county in the state does possess what’s called ‘policing power’ to enforce zoning ordinances if they so desire, but those must be based upon an existing comprehensive and land-use plan. I don’t think zoning ordinances are on the table in Oktibbeha County.”
As for establishing a transportation plan, Slaughter said his group will identify local roads, collectors and arterials throughout the county and try to identify problem areas and solutions, such as improved intersections, wider roads and lane additions. With community facilities, he said his group will review housing potential, costs and needs, and other social-governmental strengths and weaknesses.
“We look at everything, including schools. Obviously, that is an area with a separate board and budget, but we do look at how education is in the county and what things could be done to improve school systems,” Slaughter said. “Parks and recreational facilities, even jails and courthouses, fall under that category, along with all utilities and drainage infrastructure.”
According to a copy of the contract obtained by Starkville Daily News in December, a specific target completion date was not identified, but the firm would agree “to perform … services in a diligent and competent manner.”
The county will compensate Slaughter and Associates for its services plus any out-of-pocket expenses including travel, per diem expenses for personnel, purchased information and services, copies, graphic materials and other necessary expenses, the contract states. Also, the consultant “may require the assistance of the county engineer regarding water, sewer, street and drainage facilities … whose fee, if any, is not covered in this agreement.”
Slaughter and Associates will submit “monthly or periodic” invoices to the board requesting payment. Those requests will be “based upon the amount and value of work and services performed” and will include itemized statements. Oktibbeha County, according to the contract, must make its payments within 30 days after receiving the firm’s invoices or face a suspension of work.
The contract includes pay rates for Slaughter and Associates’ employees. The group’s principal planner will earn $185 per hour, while its associate planners I and II will earn $125 and $100 per hour respectively. Assistant planners I and II will earn $85 and $60 per hour respectively, according to the contract, while a planning/GIS technician will earn $50 per hour and an office technician will earn $35 per hour.
During the board’s Nov. 19 meeting, GTPDD Director Rudy Johnson told supervisors he would support any action that tasks Slaughter and Associates with executing comprehensive planning.
“If you want to go with Mike, you’ve got my blessing. We’ve made it clear in our meeting that we would work together in this plan,” Johnson said in November. “Y’all have paid for a lot of work so far. Just don’t make sure you don’t pay for that again. We can help (Slaughter) with anything he needs.”