The city of Beaufort is cutting back its contracted planning and engineering services, under a new agreement the Redevelopment Commission approved Thursday with The Lawrence Group.
The architectural, interior-design and planning firm has worked with the city since 2008 and had a two-year contract that ended in July, with annual estimated costs to the city of about $660,000.
The new contract is backdated to the end of that contract and runs until June 30, 2014. Total costs over the two years are not to exceed $525,000 without written authorization by city manager Scott Dadson.
The contract includes a phased-in reduction in the amount of time The Lawrence Group staff will spend in the city. That started when one of the firm's planners, Josh Martin, who worked closely with city staff, took another job last month.
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Lawrence Group principal Craig Lewis, who directs the city's Office of Civic Investment, will spend an average of two days in Beaufort a week until about January. Throughout the contract, Lewis and other group employees will work from Beaufort or remotely, as needed.
The contracted work centers around specific projects -- completing the city's master plan, the proposed form-based code and the Boundary Street renovations.
Redevelopment Commission chairman Jon Verity said The Lawrence Group was the only firm the commission considered for the work because of its extensive involvement with ongoing projects. He said it would have been difficult for the city to hire employees with the same capabilities.
Verity also said Beaufort probably would not have received the $12.6 million grant for the Boundary Street project without the firm, because a city employee would not have had time to apply for the money.
Verity sees the next few years as a transition period, after which a full-time city planning staff could take over projects once the main planning ends. The city's approach will be to move toward spending "less money on planning and more on implementation," he said.
During the contract period, base hours will drop from a total of 116 per month to 28 per month.
"We have to do something (to transition)," he said. "We can't just drop the whole expense."
He said most of the contract's cost, about $350,000, will be spent this fiscal year, which ends June 30.
Any future decisions to hire city planners will be made by Dadson, Verity said.
The contract also calls for monthly, quarterly and annual progress reports, and The Lawrence Group must track its hours better. Lewis said the firm has not been as "diligent," as it should have been with reports.
Verity said costs during the past two years did not exceed contracted amounts and that he was not concerned about previous expense reporting. But going forward, he and the commission said they want more control over costs.
- Martin leaves post in Beaufort's civic investment office, Aug. 29, 2012
- Redevelopment Commission's muscle to help guide Beaufort future, Oct. 16, 2010
- Panel approves Carnegie Building lease to chamber, Oct. 7, 2010
- Consultant promises residents' views will be reflected in Beaufort comprehensive plan, Dec. 8, 2008