Commissioners will end agreements with city
The Lee County Board of Commissioners voted Monday to terminate several interlocal agreements unless a suitable compromise could be reached with the City of Sanford — catching some Sanford City officials off guard.
Lee County Manager John Crumpton sent a formal letter of intent to the City of Sanford Tuesday after the board of commissioners unanimously voted to end current interlocal agreements with several departments including Community Development, Planning and Zoning, Building Inspections, GIS, Tax Collection and Animal Control Services effective June 30, 2013.
If the agreements are not renewed, the county would need to hire employees for a planning department, Crumpton said, an idea suggested during Monday's meeting. Everything else "works the other way, where (the city) would have to get people," Crumpton said.
Sanford Mayor Cornelia Olive said Tuesday she hadn't reviewed the commissioners' meeting, but had hoped more communication would have taken place before such a decision was made. And said she was surprised by the board's vote.
"We know there is a new majority on the county commissioner board, and we anticipated some changes," she said. "But we had hoped communication between the two boards would remain strong so that our planning process will be more predictable."
Monday's meeting was the first for Amy Dalrymple, Ricky Frazier and Kirk Smith and the board's conservative majority.
"The board is willing to discuss new agreements on all interlocal agreements with the city, if the city wishes to continue any of the relationships with the county," Crumpton wrote in his letter to the city. "... We are making plans to move forward with this new direction. However, we can change that direction if the city council is willing to work on new agreements."
Several interlocal agreements were originally intended to create a "one-stop shop" for businesses and residents within the county several decades ago, Crumpton said.
"It's the majority's will to lower taxes," he said. "Going through the budget process year after year, one area we have not been able to lower costs is in the agreements with the city. We are cutting, but those joint agreements seem to go up every year."
For example, the cost of the planning department has increased at twice the rate of inflation, Crumpton said. The county needs to ask what it is getting in return, he said.
In his letter, he cited concerns by some commissioners, dating back to 2011, who believed the county was subsidizing the city with agreement rate increases.
Sanford City Manager Hal Hegwer said he plans to circulate the information to the council and will look for its guidance in moving forward.
"It's a lot to digest," he said. "It's something I will forward to city council and seek their input and what direction they want to go."
Dalrymple said she didn't want the action to appear adversarial toward the city, but the contracts needed to be reviewed.
"We have some interinterlocal agreements that are as old as I am," she said. "... We need to revisit them. It's not pulling anything away from either one of the governing bodies; we may lose out on some of the agreements, but we have to come up to 2012."
Commissioner Charlie Parks, the newly appointed board chairman, said the county has previously tried to resolve its concerns and frustrations, but to no avail.
For more than three years the county has instructed the manager to meet with the city without receiving any positive response, Parks said in a letter to The Herald. A small group of representatives were asked to attend a meeting that included the city, Town of Broadway and the county to encourage "meaningful dialog for the betterment of all" but no progress was made, he said in the letter.
"The city clearly has no interest in renegotiating the agreements so the commissioners were forced to make a difficult decision," Parks wrote. "Either keep these agreements which are inequitable or cancel them and offer the city one last chance to offer options for changing the agreements. Unanimously it was agreed that the time was up and it is time to move on."
The commissioners plan to aid all the residents of Lee County, including working with the city when "they are ready to have serious discussions," he wrote.
Olive disagreed and said there has always been cohesiveness between the two boards.
"In the past, there has been a cooperative spirit between the two governments, and my experience has been that we always wanted the best for both, the city and the county," she said. "And I think that has been my approach to whatever we have done as a council."
Sanford City Council's Law and Finance Committee meeting is set for next Wednesday, and the agreements will probably be placed on the agenda, she said.