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Editorial: Commissioners shouldn’t mislead public about study’s intent

Is Rowan County investigating whether to consolidate departments that perform permitting functions?

Commissioners Chairman Greg Edds during Monday’s meeting referenced a Salisbury Post article published Sunday (“Commissioners to hear about consolidating departments”) when saying “that’s not necessarily what we are trying to do.” The county, instead, hopes to examine the entire permitting process, whether it’s a pool or a large warehouse, to become “the best,” Edds said.

That’s a good goal, and we applaud for commissioners for looking for ways to find ways to find new efficiencies in local government, but the county’s initial request for proposals speaks for itself. Efficiency may be a goal, but so is consolidation.

“The purpose of this request for qualifications is to obtain information from consulting firms interested in providing expert professional guidance for developing and implementing a centralized permitting process by consolidating existing departments involved in the land development and environmental permitting and inspection process into one cohesive and functioning unit,” states the request for proposals issued in March.

There are five departments that are subjects in the request — building inspections, environmental health, environmental management, fire marshal and planning — and the county seeks to consolidate those into one unit, the request states.

The proposal approved Monday would start Matrix Consulting Group on a 14-week study that will evaluate the pros and cons of the project at a cost of $72,000. There will be surveys, meetings and evaluations of existing and best practices.

And at the end, the consulting company will submit a final report. That report, among other things, will detail the impact and costs of centralizing permitting functions, including any negative or positive operational impacts.

The company’s proposal states the report will include, “Recommended staffing allocations, by number and position, for each division and an overall organizational structure for the development review and permitting process that maximizes communications, workloads and efficiency, and that minimizes duplication.”

To be clear, consolidation may result in a more effective and efficient permitting process for developers, residents and the general public. With a growing county, there may be no reduction in staff needed. And, with Board of Commissioners that’s long had a conservative Republican majority, it makes sense that county government would look for efficiencies.

But there’s no need to mislead the public. Commissioners on Monday voted in favor of paying a company to conduct a study that will investigate consolidating departments.

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