BELDING — The city of Belding will no longer be working with LSL Planning Inc. after city council members voted 5-0 to cut ties with the community planning consultant agency after a discrepancy was discovered with recent billing.
City Manager Meg Mullendore will now take over the duties previously performed by the Grand Rapids agency, which include development review, governing document creation, public and private sector interaction, zoning and land development regulations, project management and historic preservation.
According to Mullendore, a “red flag” was raised when she began browsing through bills incurred by the city from LSL Planning in her first week on the job after starting the position of city manager on April 8.
“One of the things that Meg has uncovered in her first week of getting her feet wet was our LSL bills,” Mayor Ron Gunderson said. “She has uncovered some problems with billing and some information problems as well.”
According to Mullendore, the first problem she discovered was a bill for mileage for one of the consultants for attending a Planning Commission meeting in Belding in February. According to Mullendore, that meeting never took place, but the city was still billed for the mileage.
“We were billed for mileage for a meeting that never occurred and that’s an oversight that is just not acceptable,” she said.
Mullendore said the invoice in question was for $34.47.
“That doesn’t seem like a lot, but for us, any taxpayer dollars are significant,” she said.
Mullendore said after she continued to evaluate the work performed by LSL Planning for the city, she was left with more concerns about the company’s efforts.
“There are some concerns that I had about the recommendations that were coming from the firm,” she said. “I was just very concerned that we weren’t necessarily getting what we were paying for.”
According to city documents, the city was billed $17,500 in 2012 for services by LSL Planning. The city has been billed $4,100 through March of this year.
According to Mullendore, from Jan. 14, 2008, to March 11, 2013, $81,000 has been spent by the city for planning and zoning through LSL Planning.
Mullendore said she is confident that savings will come to the city if she handles the responsibilities formerly outsourced to LSL Planning, as she will add those responsibilities to her current workload.
“For us, it was over $20,000 that they spent in the last fiscal year with LSL,” she said. “With me, that $20,000 could have been used to do a comprehensive rewrite of the Master Plan, for example.”
Mullendore previously worked as a planner with the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission in 2001 and also served as the planning commissioner for Allendale Township from 2002 to 2004.
“I was doing master plans and comprehensive plans,” she said. “It is part of the background that I have, I have a lot of training and experience to do this work correctly.”
According to Mullendore, the city was required to give LSL Planning 14 days written notice before officially terminating ties, which was done on April 19.