Harpswell selectmen weigh town planner's role

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HARPSWELL — The Board of Selectmen has decided to hire a contractor for interim planning services after Town Planner Carol Eyerman leaves later this month.

Selectmen, however, disagreed Feb. 12 about the town planner’s future role and whether the town should keep a full-time planner on staff.

Chairman Rick Daniel said the town should retain an in-house planner, but a future role should be broadened to include other duties, particularly applying for grants.

“I’m not in favor, or believe, that we should be without a full-time planner,” Daniel said.

He noted that the cost of outside services, between $60 and $100 an hour, according to Town Administrator Kristi Eiane, would end up costing the town about as much as a staff planner. The proposed budget for the town’s planning office in 2015 is about $78,300.

Several contractors have been contacted about working for the town on an interim basis, including the Midcoast Council of Governments, Eiane told the board.

Selectman Ellie Multer said she favors contracting for planning services for a few months, then evaluating what kind of town planner Harpswell need.

Town planners provides “significant” information and guidance to town government, including the Planning Board, Conservation Committee and Mitchell Field Committee, Multer said.

Multer also suggested the town could look for a planner who could focus on promoting economic development.

But Selectman Kevin Johnson said he does not support bringing in a short-term planner until selectmen consult with the Planning Board and other committees.

Johnson also questioned whether Harpswell needs a full-time planner. He said an assistant code enforcement officer the town intends to hire, added responsibilities from volunteer committees, and services from groups like the Maine Municipal Association and MCOG could fill the gap.

“I’d like to take a look at the whole system,” Johnson said. “If we can save a few bucks by keeping it in-house, I think we should do that.”

Eiane said the town needs to bring on a planner to deal with pending Planning Board applications. She said she intended to draft a contract for interim services for selectmen to consider at their Feb. 19 meeting.

Peter L. McGuire can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or pmcguire@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter @PeteL_McGuire