Mayor rebuffs push for planner

WARREN – Mayor Doug Franklin still says no to hiring a planning director. The Resident Advisory Committee tried once again at a meeting last week to convince him to change his mind.

Franklin said the city does not have money in the budget for a professional planner. He said he does not want to create a position that will have to be staffed for years when the city may not need it.

RAC member Dennis Blank lamented the decision.

“The administration has no plans to revive the city,” he said.

“The city has shrunk by a third in the past 30 years and it continues to become smaller, older and poorer. Hiring a planning director would make someone responsible for creating a plan for the city that would have both short-term and long-term goals,” he said.

Blank said hiring a city planner was recommended in the 2009 strategic plan, also known as the Poggemeyer study, that the city itself commissioned. The ad hoc Resident Advisory Committee created by City Council in 2012 was established to implement portions of the Poggemeyer study.

The group has been pushing for a planner since 2012.

“No one believes a corporation like Packard Electric will come to Warren and bring 5,000 new jobs,” Blank said. “We must establish a plan and do the things that will attract smaller companies. There must be someone to do the coordination, communication and finding the resources needed to attract new businesses.

“There is no one in the city that is focused on these issues,” he said. “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

Franklin countered, “I appreciate the hard work the members of RAC has been doing, but in light of various budgetary challenges and being faced with laying off firefighters due to the ending of the SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grants, I cannot use general fund money to pay for a planner.

“We are no longer receiving local government funds to the tune of nearly $500,000, and there also was the (state) elimination of inheritance tax. My first obligation is the safety of the city’s residents,” Franklin said.

Franklin also rejects the idea that his administration failed to plan growth in the city.

“The announcement that Laird Wireless Automation is moving 150 current employees and has promised to bring another 55 in the next three years show we are working and planning ways to bring new employees into the city.”

RAC members say they recognize the difficulty regarding hiring a planner, but call it a largely political difficulty.

“No one wants to see firemen laid off, but if the city does not resume economic growth soon, there will be many more layoffs and service cuts; a planner is a small investment in progress,” they wrote a March 10 letter to Franklin.

In the letter, the RAC suggested paying an outsourced city planner using the nearly $100,000 in salary and benefits now directed to the city hall’s administrative / purchasing position. The woman holding that position is expected to retire this year.

“This should leave additional funds available to fund an effort to market the city,” the letter states.

Blank said an alternate source of funding would be seeking a grant under Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant.

“If this option is more attractive, we urge the mayor and council to take appropriate steps towards allocating finds from the next CDBG budget,” Blank said.

Councilman John Brown, D-3rd Ward, said he and the mayor made a request of the city’s grant writer to seek either governmental or private grants to pay for a city planner. Brown agrees there should be an effort to get the city’s community development department to seek grants to hire a city planner.

Franklin said the amount of money the city has been getting from CDBG funds also has been shrinking.

“It is getting to the point where we will have to subsidize some of the CDBG programs,” he said.

Brown also suggested the administration look among its current employees to see if there is someone whose job can be adjusted to do some strategic planning.

“The city also can seek help from some of its partners to do strategic planning,” Brown said.

Franklin is looking to bring in others to help.

“We have discussed with Ron Cunningham with Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, and with city workers, such as John May, who have city planning background,” Franklin said.

Councilman Greg Bartholomew, D-4th Ward, said he believes the city eventually should, and eventually will, hire a planner, but says working with a group like Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership would be acceptable in the meantime.

“It worked when George Piscsalko was here (as planning and zoning coordinator of Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership),” Bartholomew said. “He was doing a lot of the planning in spite of the fact that it was not his job to do so.”

Bartholomew is concerned whether longtime city employees would follow the orders of someone not hired by the city.