published Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

Jasper picks new planners

By Ryan Lewis/Correspondent

JASPER, Tenn. — City administrators have decided their best choice to replace the local planning services that have been cut by the state is the Southeast Tennessee Development District.

The state recently decided to scratch the program by July in an effort to cut the budget, and that move has sent counties and municipalities clambering to find a replacement service.

“The [state] government has removed [state planning services] from the budget completely,” Jasper Mayor Billy Simpson said. “The Southeast Development District is looking at taking over the local planning for the area that they serve.”

The Southeast Tennessee Development District, a voluntary association of municipal and county governments, provides a range of planning and development services.

Officials said Jasper now pays the state $7,500 per year for planning services, and that rate would remain the same if the city joins with the development district.

If the development district does take over, many of the same state employees would be hired by that organization to do the same planning work for the same areas, Simpson said, but “not all of them.”

“[Local planning] is a very vital part of our zoning, subdivision regulations and a lot of other things that we have to have,” he said. “It’s very vital to every city. I don’t see how we could do anything but go along with this.”

The board voted unanimously to hire the development district for the local planning services if the organization does indeed take over. Nearby Kimball, Tenn., made the same move two weeks ago.

Alderman Steve Looney said the Jasper Planning Commission has made sure the district can do the job the state is doing now.

“At our [last] planning commission meeting, we made sure that Southeast Development could offer all of the services that the state does,” he said. “We were assured that they could and for the same price.”

Last week, Jasper completed a state inspection dealing with grants that had been submitted with the help of the development district, Simpson said, and the town got an “excellent” score.

“They do a tremendous job on anything they do,” he said.

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com

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