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Development uptick justifies full-time secretary

Article Date: 
2 August, 2013 (All day)

Due to an uptick in development activity, the Morgan County Council approved a full-time secretary position through the end of the year for the planning development department.  Previously, the position was only part-time, and the other four employees in the office had to cover the front desk during the latter part of the business day.
“We have seen a dramatic increase in building permits and planning revenue is above normal,” said Charlie Ewert, county planning and development department director.  “It’s no secret I’ve been hoping for additional administrative support in my office.”
Building permit activity this year has been on a continuous steady incline, Ewert said.  With future phases of Rollins Ranch set to get platted, the increase is not set to stop, he said.  The 2013 numbers are set to beat building permit activity in 2007.
“He needs a full-time secretary,” said Council Chairwoman Tina Kelley.  “He has needed one all year.”
The department will also be able to replace a part-time transcriptionist who recently resigned.  The council previously gave permission to hire a part-time building inspector.
The council said they will be watching closely if the full-time secretary actually makes a difference in the office. 
Ewert said that due to a recent increase in revenues, the department can pay for the full-time secretary position.  In addition, the department has spent $124,000 this year to date compared to a budgeted $308,000 in expenditures.
Ewert budgeted for $150,000 in building permit revenues this year, and in just the first half of the year has realized $154,000 in revenue.  He noted it is against state law to have revenues outpace expenditures.
“That means we are working twice as hard as we normally would be,” Ewert said.  “We feel burdened.”
Revenues for planning applications are bigger this year than they otherwise would be, Ewert said, because the applications are more complicated than normal and take more time to review.
But council members aren’t so sure a full-time secretary will completely ease the burden.
With the recent repeal of the “cumbersome” Commercial District zone and other improvements to planning processes, wait times should be on the decline anyway, said Councilman Robert Kilmer.
“Over the past 13 months, the county has done some drastic measure to ensure we are operating more efficiently.  We’ve made fairly good moves to take some of these things out of executive decision.  It should start making it easier to get through these applications,” Kilmer said.  “I would like to play this out a little bit and see how these changes affect it.”
Kilmer said the department’s “bottleneck” is not the secretary.  However, Kelley said that if the other department employees did not have to cover the front desk 12 hours of the day, they would have more time to dedicate to “what they are supposed to be doing.”
Ewert agreed, saying he doesn’t have sufficient time to act as both a planner and a department administrator.
“The current bottleneck is specifically in my office,” Ewert said.  “Planning applications are taking as long as they are because I don’t have time to get through them.  We are spread really thin.  Come spend a day in my office.  You will be bored as sine, but you will see everything we do is with effectiveness and efficiency.”
“I was hoping for a number to monitor,” said Councilman Lyle Nelson.  “I have found that if things are measured, things improve.”
Ewert said he simply doesn’t have the time or tools to provide measurements some council members are asking for that would demonstrate if the full-time secretary position made a difference between now and the end of the year.
“I don’t want to spend money and then nothing changes,” Councilman Ned Mecham said. 
Other council members said a full-time secretary may decrease the wait time many have complained about.
“I have heard a lot of concern for how long it is taking to get through basic work,” said Councilman Logan Wilde.  “It would just make it even longer without a secretary.”
“To me, it feels like we are making this process more streamlined.  I still contend if we do bring on the secretary, it will make the process even faster,” Councilman Austin Turner said.  “I feel we should do any little bit we can do to facilitate to make it even easier.  I am happy with the progress we are making, but we can make it even better.”