York County manager calls for more efficiency, fewer ‘surprises’

jzou@heraldonline.comDecember 18, 2013 

York County Manager Bill Shanahan delivered his first set of public recommendations to the county on Wednesday night in Rock Hill, emphasizing greater efficiency, departmental streamlining, and fewer “surprises.”

Shanahan, who was unanimously tapped for the position by the County Council in August, has focused on updating the county’s comprehensive plan, which lays out long-term economic and land-use strategies.

But he also took the opportunity to touch on some ways he thought the county could improve, including hiring outside consultants or management firms to get a better handle on capital projects that have stretched county staff thin.

“Good is status quo; I’m looking for great,” Shanahan said. “Sometimes things slip through the cracks.”

He added that the county would benefit from having an outsider review “Pennies for Progress” – a referendum-based program that funds new roads with an additional 1-cent sales tax. “This is not to say anything’s going wrong,” he said.

A Pennies project in Rock Hill on White Street recently came in over budget by $3.2 million because of a combination of budgeting errors and unanticipated cost overruns.

Council Chairman Britt Blackwell seconded the idea of adding an extra layer of review for larger, more complex projects. “We have things we can do better,” he said during Wednesday night’s meeting. “We’re dealing with taxpayer dollars.”

But the prospect of hiring consultants didn’t bode well for some council members.

“That’s what we hired you for. I do not believe a consultant is the right answer,” Councilman Joe Cox said to Shanahan during the meeting. “Don’t hire a consultant for every little thing.”

Councilman Bruce Henderson said that while he’s a believer in “total transparency,” he, too, was skeptical of outside consultants.

As an alternative, Shanahan suggested the county consider making a position for a full-time analyst who could assess programs. Shanahan worked previously as an analyst in Savannah, Ga,.

The council workshop also addressed the county’s ongoing debate over the hospitality tax, which divided council members earlier this year.

When it came to improving countywide efficiency, the county manager recommended that staff look into streamlining the legal process so all council members are on the same page when it comes to contractual matters.

The county recently approved a set of contracts with county ambulance providers, but drafts of legal documents weren’t finalized until minutes before some County Council meetings throughout the monthslong process.

“Elected officials have to be aware of all the big-picture items as soon as possible,” Shanahan said.

Jie Jenny Zou •  803-329-4062

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