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City re-ups with Benchmark firm for planning tasks

The city of Mount Airy is continuing its relationship with a Charlotte-based firm that has been handling planning-related services on behalf of the municipality for nearly 10 years.

That privatization move dates to the fall of 2011, occurring after the retirement of longtime Mount Airy Planning Director Jeff Coutu. This led to a reorganization of the city planning office and contracting with Benchmark CMR Inc., which was viewed as a cost-saving measure.

The most recent development with Benchmark involves the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners voting during a meeting in late May to approve a new contract with the firm.

Mayor Ron Niland pointed out that this will mean no additional cost for the municipality, which sometimes occurs with renewals of agreements.

“The annual rate is not increased from the previous contract and will remain the same for the next three years,” Niland said.

Benchmark is to be paid $145,000 per year under the new contract which goes into effect on July 1 and will expire on June 30, 2024.

Under the agreement, the firm provides local staff members who typically work from the city planning office in the Municipal Building five days a week led by Planning Director Andy Goodall, a Benchmark employee.

Their functions include annexation and zoning-related matters and serving as a liaison between the Mount Airy Planning Board and the city commissioners who appoint members to that advisory group.

The overall goal for the Benchmark staff is proper growth management and long-range land-use planning to help ensure that development in Mount Airy occurs in an economically and environmentally sustainable fashion, guided by various plans, codes and ordinances.

When the municipality’s contract with Benchmark was last renewed in June 2018, the $145,000 annual cost of that arrangement forged then was a decrease from the $165,000 per year previously paid.

Mount Airy officials have commented that Benchmark staffers are easy to work with and have become integral parts of the city government team.

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

Board reappointments

In other recent action, the city commissioners reappointed members to local advisory boards.

Tommy Brannock and Dr. Hugh Sutphin were approved on May 20 for new terms on the Mount Airy ABC Board, which oversees operations of the municipality’s lone liquor store on Starlite Road.

Both members’ terms had expired and each expressed interest in continuing to serve.

Brannock and Sutphin were reappointed to new three-year terms, with Brannock’s to run until March 31, 2024 and Sutphin’s, Oct. 31, 2023.

Another reappointment earlier this year which previously was unreported involved Sammy Gray Parker being approved for a new five-year term as a commissioner for the Mount Airy housing authority governing board. It oversees the public housing facilities in the city.

Parker’s latest term expires on Feb. 16, 2026.



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