Tags: Geneva Linn
January 08, 2014 | 11:05 AMLINN — Town Chairman Jim Weiss said a re-examination of the town's comprehensive plan review and its employee handbook are his biggest issues for 2014.
In a Dec. 30 phone interview, he said he hopes the town board will select a firm to help conduct the plan review at the regular meeting Monday, Jan. 13, at 7 p.m.
Why is the plan review one of the year's biggest issues?
"This is the blueprint of the town itself," Weiss said. "No. 1, from a legal perspective, it needs to be updated every 14 years, and No. 2, to identify all the areas we had positioned for growth … and what type of developments are still applicable today."
In a Sept. 10 interview, Weiss said residential development was the hot topic when the plan was created in the early 2000s.
The plan designates areas for agricultural, business, residential, industrial, recreational and other uses.
In a Dec. 31 email, Linn Supervisor and Plan Commission member Alex Palmer said he agreed with Weiss on the importance of the plan review.
"It's the biggest issue because, quite frankly, this plan affects the livelihood and quality of life of a large portion of our citizens," Palmer said. "As a board, there is nothing that we do that has a greater impact on our residents than approving or disapproving uses of property, and this plan will directly influence those decisions."
Palmer said the town of Linn is "so unique" because of its diverse land uses, which range from agricultural to multimillion-dollar lakefront properties and "many levels in between."
"I'm very sensitive to keeping a delicate balance between allowing our farms and businesses to thrive while maintaining the beautiful lakefront setting and rural charm we have all grown to love," he said. "I believe that the vast majority of our residents want to keep the rural character of the town intact, and creating a strong planning document is a key component in ensuring good long-term decision making."
On Dec. 30, Weiss said the board received seven proposals from firms that work on plan reviews, and it has been a "long, laborious process" to sift through them.
"Different people have different perspectives, or suggestions, on what should be done and how it should be done. … Some are suggesting we do another township wide survey, others are not," he said.
With the first plan, the town conducted a survey, Weiss said.
"That's probably, if you're on a decision tree, the survey is one of your first decisions you have to make."
He said the board has about $50,000 budgeted for the plan review.
"It will stay within budget," said Weiss. "The question is how we will approach it."
A uniform handbook for town employees was the first issue Weiss discussed Dec. 30.
"Our current handbook is very well-dated and archaic, and needs to be modernized with all the changes that have taken place in labor laws over the past 10 years or so," he said.
Weiss said the current document "doesn't cover everybody in all uses" in areas such as vacation and bereavement time. "All these types of things were really loose before."
One area almost completely not addressed by the current handbook is the town's fire and rescue department.
Weiss gave this example: If someone applies for a job with the town's highway department, it goes to committee for a recommendation, then final approval by the town board. With the fire and rescue department, said Weiss, applications stay in-house and are not submitted to the board for final approval.
He said if the latest draft of the handbook is approved, that would change. New department applications would go to the board for approval.
A call was placed last week to Linn Fire Chief Jason Smith for comment, but he did not return it by press time.
Weiss said the fire and rescue department is aware of the proposed changes, and, in general, there has been no opposition — just questions.
"It has nothing to do with control," he said. "It's about giving everybody a blueprint, the rules of the road, for everybody to do their job. It makes things easier for everybody."
Weiss said this will not change the department's standard operating procedure, but the fire and rescue department has always been "a gray area" in the handbook, and "how we handle everything, what (insurance) coverage they get and what applies to them" will be in the document.
He also said another area not covered in the current employee handbook is use of smartphones and email.
But in general, the intent behind the handbook update is to improve the town's efficiency, said Weiss, to be consistent, establish processes and place all employees on a level playing field.
"It is important because it helps us to better manage the township personnel, both today with our existing employees, and tomorrow," he said.