2017-09-21 / Front Page

Zoning costs a bundle

Total tops $270,000
By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff

Local zoning ordinances help control what, where and how things happen on the Leelanau Peninsula.

But enforcement doesn’t happen on its own. And the cost is borne by taxpayers.

An Enterprise survey of the county’s 11 townships and three incorporated villages showed the cost of administering the ordinance totals more than $270,000 a year.

Steve Patmore works as zoning administrator for Leelanau, Suttons Bay and Bingham townships.

“Not all the ordinances are the same, but there are similarities and that helps,” said Patmore, who began working in Suttons Bay Township in 2000. “The procedures are the same, but the content is specific to each community.”

He has worked as zoning administrator in Bingham Township since 2006 and took on the task in Leelanau Township in 2012.

Patmore said education is part of his administrative role than anything else.

“Some people wonder why we have a zoning ordinance at all,” he said. “They think zoning is intrusive and that they should be able to do whatever they want with their property.

“But for the most part, people get it …I really like what I do.”

Knowing the “ins and outs” of zoning and permits has become a way of life for Tim Cypher and his business, the Cypher Group, Inc. He works for five of the 11 townships in Leelanau County, and draws the most compensation.

Cypher will be paid $73,000 this year for contractual services provided to Centerville, Solon, Empire, Leland and Glen Arbor townships.

The total does not include duties performed not covered by his salaries. He is paid separately at rates of $25, $50 or $100 per hour for services that can include meeting with clients or processing lot splits.

Cypher said he works diligently for his compensation.

“I have a great relationship with each township I work for,” Cypher said in a written response to a request for comment. “I earn every dime I’m being compensated for and do an outstanding job with responding to all of the demands of the position.”

Although the Enterprise sought annual compensation for the 2016 calendar year in Freedom of Information requests, some townships covered by Cypher responded with fiscal year information. Consequently, a total amount for 2016 received by the Cypher group is not provided in this coverage.

In the case of Glen Arbor Township, Cypher’s work pay beyond his base contract nearly tripled his total compensation.

Leland Township’s contract, adopted in April of this year, pays the former Leland Township trustee $22,500 per year for April 1, 2017 through March 31 of ‘19. — the largest base salary among the townships in which he works.

Cypher provides a monthly report to the board of each township he serves along with an expense statement.

In May, the contractual $1,875 amount was paid by Leland Township. Additionally, Cypher billed the township 12 hours for special land use permits at a rate of $50 per hour. Cypher’s attendance at a Planning Commission meeting and Zoning Board of Appeals was billed at another $50 for each. Add to this the 343 miles for which he was reimbursed and his services cost Leland Township $2,758 for the month.

That’s a little over the monthly average of $2,615 paid Cypher from April through June.

During calendar year 2016, the Cypher Group was paid $25,164 by Leland Township, according to year-end report from the township.

Solon Township approved a four-year contract with the Cypher Group in April 2016. He is paid $9,500 a year as zoning administrator and serves as township planner for another $8,500 annually.

Total compensation to Cypher from Solon Township during calendar year 2016 tallied $19,678.

Glen Arbor Township adopted a twoyear contract with the Cypher Group that expires March 31, 2018. The township’s contract with Cypher includes a base salary of $13,500. However, for calendar year 2016, a vendor report generated for Cypher that includes land splits, site plan reviews and attendance at Planning Commission/ Township Board meetings brought total compensation for the Cypher Group to $37,475.

A good portion of the contractual extras were the result of his investigation into an alleged zoning violation at a waterfront business.

“You can ask my board members and constituents that I go well beyond what my contemporaries do,” Cypher said. “Bottom line: I’m good at what I do…I have a job to do and I do it. When I need guidance, I draw from experts in the fields I’m dealing with at the time with no costs to the townships other an some legal input.”

Three of Cypher’s five townships have contracts expiring on March 31, 2018.

Although direct comparisons are difficult because of compensation received beyond his salaried responsibilities, it appears that Cypher is among the county's highest paid local government employees not involved with public schools. The county prosecutor, administrator and equalization director are paid $89,623, $82,275 and $82,031, respectively.

Kasson Township zoning administrator Mike Lanham is responsible for only one township, as are Bruce Buchan in Cleveland Township and Sara Kopriva in Elmwood Township.

Lanham’s 2016 salary was $6,500. Buchan in nearby Cleveland Township was paid $8,419.

Kopriva, who serves as both zoning administrator and planner in the county’s most populated township of Elmwood, was paid $55,000.

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