What’s in a planning commission’s annual report? – Part 2

The annual report is a requirement of all local government planning commissions and is an opportunity to provide those in charge of the “purse strings” with a dashboard of planning commission achievements.

The first part of this two-part series detailed the minimum required in planning commission annual reports in the Michigan Planning Enabling Act (MCL 125.3819(2)). Beyond the minimum, consider including the following additional information in the annual report as further documentation of well-functioning planning and zoning program:

Example Annual Reports

Operations of the zoning administrator
The planning commission works in tandem with the zoning administrator in operation of the local government planning/zoning program. Include the number of zoning permits, site plan reviews and other activity done by the
zoning administrator in the day-to-day operation of the
zoning ordinance. The report might also include a summary
of land division reviews (ideally performed in conjunction with the local assessor). Violations and enforcement activity by the
zoning administrator is also an operational aspect to include in the annual report.

Operations of the zoning board of appeals
Similarly, consider including information on the operations of the zoning board of appeals, such as the number of administrative appeals, interpretation cases, nonconformities, non-use variances, and use variances (if applicable) considered and approved or denied.

Planning commissioner attendance
Since it’s the legislative body (for townships and counties) or mayor or president (for cities and villages) who appoints planning commissioners to their roles, it is only appropriate that elected officials know the attendance record of their appointees. If an individual’s attendance is weak and his/her term is expiring soon, the attendance record is helpful for elected officials to make an informed decision about (re)appointing a member who will be present to do his/her job. It is recommended that attendance requirements be placed in the planning commission bylaws. Then, if attendance is not met the planning commissioner can be appropriately removed for nonfeasance.

Training or professional development of members/staff
Perhaps members of the planning commission have participated in training offered by the Michigan Townships Association, Michigan Municipal League, Michigan Association of Counties, Michigan State University Extension, or other organization and they may have even earned certification through Michigan Citizen Planner. Such achievements are noteworthy and advance the knowledge and effectiveness of individual members and the planning commission as a whole (see MSU Extension news article “The Importance of Discussing Best Practices for Continuing Education in Planning and Zoning.”)

Fiscal needs for next year
Perhaps the most practical purpose of the annual report is to provide the justification for next year’s budget request. If the planning commission sufficiently documents accountability in the annual report, next year’s budget is a fairly straightforward request. The annual report might include detail on ongoing initiatives that will require funding into the future. Being an annual report, however, the specifics for next year’s activities and initiatives should be more appropriately detailed in an accompanying annual work program.

Obviously, the planning commission does not exist in a vacuum and activities of other entities within the community planning and zoning program, including the zoning board of appeals and staff, can be included in the annual report to ensure a robust presentation to the legislative body. On the other hand, it is not necessary to compile an exhaustive document that loses the interest of the legislative body. The important point is to use the opportunity to provide those charged with managing the local government ‘purse strings’ an overview of planning commission operations and a justification for future initiatives. In the era of government accountability, think of the annual report as the planning commission “dashboard.” The sidebar above and to the right details a wide range of example annual reports from various types of local governments in Michigan.

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