As Hancock County grows, so do the needs of the Planning and Building Department

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HANCOCK COUNTY — As Hancock County officials start preparing to approve the 2025 budget, department heads are making their way to meetings, letting officials know their needs for the up coming year.

During the Tuesday Hancock County Commissioners meeting, the head of the county’s Planning and Building Department asked the Commissioners to think about above-standard raises for at least two of her employees as well as increases for a couple other funds.

Planning Executive Director Kayla Brooks, who was appointed to the position in December of 2022, noted the office has been performing well even though it has gone through changes the past couple of years, and employees are in need and deserve a pay bump.

Brooks brought the commissioners copies of her proposed budget for 2025, which includes pay increases for her staff of three.

“They have put in just an incredible about of work and have really stepped up,” Brooks said. “Anytime there are changes in a department, especially this size, you see shifts in responsibilities in the way departments function, and my staff has really stepped up.”

Brooks noted two of her three employees have requested pay raises, including one who has earned a bachelor’s degree.

 Kayla Brooks, Hancock County Planning Executive Director

“The other has really stepped up to be, as we like to call her, our source for institutional knowledge,” Brooks said.

Brooks has been able to transfer some of her overall funding but will need some additional funding from the county to be able to give her employees a solid raise.

“I know you are not the council, and I know you are not approving my budget today, but I wanted to get your approval of the direction we are heading,” Brooks told the commissioners.

Brooks noted the pay increases she’s asking for is an estimated additional $7,500 per employee. But, Brooks noted, she’ll need a little less than that due to the fact she’ll take money from other areas to see that her employees get a decent raise.

The fact Hancock County is the fastest growing county in the state and is not far from 90,000 residents (estimated 86,000 to 89,000), the work the Planning and Building Department has taken on over the past couple of years could be considered massive, and Brooks noted they’ve not skipped a beat.

Brooks said the other area she’s asking for is an increase surround legal services and contractual services due to the fact they’re seeing much more work for their legal team.

“We are a growing county facing growing county issues,” Brooks said. “We’ve got folks coming in from areas and they’re bringing in big lawyers, so we’re finding the need to use ours more just to represent us.”

Hancock County Commissioner Bill Spalding noted he understood the request and agreed with the need for an increase in the department’s budget.

 Bill Spalding, Hancock County Commissioner

“I think the bigger we get, the more we are going to be faced with more legal challenges so that probably makes sense,” Spalding said.

Brooks noted costs for monthly meetings with a lawyer is estimated around $2,125.

“That’s just for the meetings alone,” Brooks said. “That doesn’t include any additional services we might need.”

The department often deals with a wide variety of ordinance and zoning issues and therefore needs probably more than average legal assistance.

“It’s amazing how quickly costs add up for a code violation,” Brooks said.

Brooks also noted they have numerous boxes full of old, yet important county paperwork that need to be transferred and digitized and therefore she’ll need to have some contractual services budgeted for the coming year.

“I’ve got boxes and boxes of old paper, including from BZA files from 1947 that we have to keep forever,” Brooks said.

The county budget process still has multiple steps to go through before Hancock County Council and Commissioner approval later this summer. Brooks was asking the commissioners for a favorable recommendation for the 2025 planning budget to be sent to the council, which was given by the three commissioners.