City extends contract for planning service

By Tom Joyce -

Mount Airy officials have voted to extend their relationship with a private firm that has handled planning-related functions for the city government since 2011 — and at a lower cost.

However, that’s due to Benchmark CMR Inc., based in Charlotte, no longer providing building codes-enforcement services for Mount Airy as it has previously during the contractual arrangement, which involved a codes officer coming to town on a limited basis.

Municipal officials opted in 2017 to hire a locally based codes officer part-time, who recently resigned effective this Saturday, the end of the 2017-2018 fiscal year.

City Manager Barbara Jones said Wednesday that no plans had been finalized for replacing Bill Beamer, who has served in that capacity since last August. Several options are being weighed for enforcing minimum housing and other violations. Jones said.

In the meantime, the new contract with Benchmark, approved last week by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners, reflects the absence of the codes-enforcement component.

The firm will be paid $145,000 annually for each of the three years of the agreement, which runs from July 1 of this year to June 30, 2021.

Under a previous three-year contract forged in July 2015, the company was paid $165,000 per year.

Benchmark’s services to the city include land-use planning, the preparation of ordinances for new developments, master planning, urban design, outsourced local government staffing, downtown revitalization, planning and zoning administration and more.

The city manager praised Benchmark’s role when discussing the new contract Wednesday.

“I have found Benchmark owners Richard Smith, who is no longer with the company, and Jason Epley great to work with,” Jones commented.

“They have provided me a great staff,” she added. “I am pleased with the work that Andy Goodall, planning director, and staff have provided the city — they are also great to work with and have become an integral part of our team.”

Jones further appreciates the ability to tap into other Benchmark resources off-site.

“Not only do we have access to these individuals (locally), we have a team of professionals, other Benchmark staff, available to us when needed on special projects.”

The nearly seven-year relationship also was praised recently by Commissioner Jon Cawley during a city budget workshop, when a 12-cent hike in property taxes was approved to offset growing expenses of the municipality.

Cawley cited the cost savings realized from privatizing planning-related functions and suggested that this could occur with other city services.

By Tom Joyce

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.