City to contract with COG rather than hire new planner

Sean C. Morgan

The Sweet Home City Council last week approved an inter-governmental agreement with the Oregon Cascades West Council of Governments contracting for planning services in lieu of hiring a new city planner.

The resignation of Jerry Sorte last month left the city planning position vacant.

OCWCOG, headquartered in Albany, manages a variety of local, state and federal government programs serving residents, local governments and businesses in Linn and Benton counties. Its mission is to help local communities collaborate to solve problems and connect member governments, businesses, and individuals with a wide array of resources.

City Manager Ray Towry said he planned to hire an economic development director to head the Community and Economic Development Department, while the COG has been able to add planning capacity to provide planning services to its members who need it.

Sorte spent about 25 percent of his time dealing with planning, Towry said. The COG planner will spend one day each week in Sweet Home, be available by phone during the rest of the week and attend Planning Commission meetings.

For a relatively small fee, the city can free up time for the new economic development director to work on economic development, parks and rewriting the city code, Towry said. “We’ve been struggling to find ways to add capacity without just adding personnel.”

The move will free up a .25 full-time equivalent for less than the cost of .25 FTE, Towry said. In the planning office, “you will have Angela (Clegg, associate planner) 40 hours a week” along with Staff Engineer Joe Graybill and and Permit Technician Molly Laycock, each with more than 20 years of experience.

Sorte primarily did the high-level work and interpreted Oregon planning laws, Towry said.

“The day-to-day stuff is pretty much found in our code.”

Once the arrangement is in place, the city can adjust its use of the service as needed, Towry said, and the city can always stop using the service.

A COG planner operating at a regional level will also be able to provide insight based on the experiences of other communities, Towry said.

The cost of the service is $1,000 per month. The city is advertising the Community and Economic Development Director position salary range at $6,744 to $7,927 per month.

Present at the council meeting were Cortney Nash, Lisa Gourley, Mayor Greg Mahler, Diane Gerson, James Goble and Dave Trask. Susan Coleman was absent.

In other business, the council:

– Accepted an audit for the 2017-18 budget year by Grove Mueller and Swank.

– Adopted revisions to the city’s financial investment policy.

– Adopted a resolution adjusting fees, primarily increases in building and planning fees.