By Chris Hendrickson, Contributing Writer
Monroe Mayor Geoffrey Thomas and city staff sought council approval on Tuesday in an effort to begin the hiring process of a fulltime individual to work in the planning department. The city will pursue either an assistant or associate planner.
The city had previously budgeted for a director level position, but upon further consideration it has been determined that the need to obtain mid-level staff is far more critical at this point in time.
City Administrator Gene Brazel reported that it is crucial that the city is able to maintain its level of customer service, as this is one of the things that will help ensure that Monroe continues to be attractive to developers. City staff recently met with a few regional developers, the Master Builders Association and a representative from Chicago Title in Everett.
“Each of those individuals said that Monroe is where they want to be,” said Brazel.
He stated that both Monroe’s personnel and expedient processes are what make the city favorable.
Planning and Permitting Manager Paul Popelka reported that so far this year, the pace has not slowed, as was anticipated.
“We’ve been really incredibly busy for months,” said Popelka. “The pace, if anything, has increased.”
The specific area of focus for the new staffperson would be customer service. Popelka stated that this is an area that is causing the department to have difficulty; handling phone inquiries and assisting people who come to the counter for help can be extremely time-consuming. He stated that having to break away from their project management agenda is causing them to fall behind.
“We work hard to maintain a high standard of customer service,” said Popelka.
“That level of service is being compromised more and more the farther we get behind,” he continued.
The ideal candidate would have in between two to four years of planning department experience. The person would be responsible for both answering phones and assisting walk-in customers, and eventually, as they got up to speed and became familiar with Monroe city code, they would take on project review.
“What we’re hoping for is someone who’s got some municipal experience,” said Popelka.
Councilmember Kurt Goering expressed some concerns over adding new staff without a detailed analysis of the city’s five-year budget forecast, which will take place at the council meeting on March 4. He stated that, while customer service is a compelling argument, he felt reservations about agreeing to new staff without reviewing the forecast.
Mayor Thomas explained that the city is anticipating processing a significant amount of new homes in the upcoming years, and will need to ensure that the permitting process can flow smoothly and without interruption. According to the analysis of data received from the Master Builders Association and local developers, the city can expect approximately 500 new homes in the next five years.
“Before that occurs you’re looking at subdivisions, and before that occurs, you’re looking at people coming to the front counter and having questions,” said Mayor Thomas.
Brazel stated that much thought has gone into the decision to bring on a fulltime individual. The city considered using consultants, but the response from the MBA and developers was overwhelmingly in favor of fulltime staff due to a more comprehensive familiarity with city codes and regulations.
The city will not realize the benefits of new residential development if the planning department is not able to process the permits expediently, explained Brazel.
Councilmember Jason Gamble did not share Goering’s concerns. He pointed out that the position was budgeted for.
“This is not an unfunded position like we’ve dealt with in the past,” said Gamble.
MONROE MUSIC FEST
City staff asked council to make a decision on whether or not to pursue another Music Fest at Lake Tye this year. Last year, council authorized the use of $40,000 out of the contingency fund to support the new festival. The event was organized by local musician Keith Brock, who arranged an all-star lineup including the Randy Oxford Band and John Popper of the band Blues Traveler, who is also from Monroe.
The event, while considered a success by organizers, did operate at a budgetary loss of approximately $36,000. Being an inaugural event, this was not a surprise to staff who anticipated that the Music Fest might not bring revenue to the city during its first year.
While councilmembers overwhelmingly expressed desire to pursue holding the event again this year, they did have concerns over the requested budgetary allowance of $65,000, which is $25,000 more than last year. They were also were concerned about the event operating at such a loss.
Councilmembers Jim Kamp, Kurt Goering and Kevin Hanford all expressed a desire to see the budgetary allowance become slightly more modest. A suggestion of $50,000 was given.
Councilmembers Jeff Rasmussen and Jason Gamble suggested a hearty emphasis be placed on event promotion and sponsorship in an effort to reduce costs. All members of council were enthusiastic about working to obtain some additional partnerships that could potentially help promote the event and share in its initial costs.
“I was a music major and that’s my passion,” said Gamble.
Monroe’s Music Fest event will be discussed further in the upcoming month.
PUBLIC WORKSHOP – ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
The city is looking for citizen input on the matter of economic development in the city of Monroe. A public workshop will be held on Wednesday, Feb 26, at 6:30 p.m. at Park Place Middle School. Park Place Middle School is located at 1408 W. Main St. in Monroe.