When part-time city planner Jim Minard announced about a year ago his desire to retire, Philomath City Manager Chris Workman didn’t waste much time coming up with a game plan.
Workman approached Adair Village and Monroe city officials to see if they’d be interested in working together on bringing in a new planner.
“I knew they were looking for some different planning solutions … so we met within a few weeks and talked about the advantages of trying to either go through the county or between the three of us hiring a planner,” Workman said.
The three cities approached Greg Verret, the community development director and planning official for Benton County, about the idea of sharing a city planner. The county also had some of those needs and they all struck a deal.
“It took a few months to pull everything together and scheduling and who would pay for what and how that would all work,” Workman said.
In the end, the three cities cover 75 percent of the city planner’s salary with the other 25 percent paid by the county.
Pat Depa, 51, a Michigan native who recently relocated to Oregon, got the job close to two months ago and has been trying to learn development code for three cities and a county.
“So far, it’s been a big challenge just because they’re all new,” Depa said. “It’s a new learning experience only because it’s different code, different regulations pertaining to each jurisdiction but also because it’s a lot different from Michigan … a lot of differences in the process, review periods, basic development rules.”
However, Depa said that a lot of what he’s been learning is starting to kick in, partially because “there have been some projects that have been turned over to me and it’s kinda of a sink-or-swim thing but everybody’s been super helpful and forthcoming with information and been patient.”
When it came time to seek candidates for the position, Benton County put together a job description and advertised but Philomath did play a role in the recruitment and hiring process. After the first round of interviews, an offer was extended but the applicant went with a higher-paying position in the Portland vicinity. Depa applied during the second round and quickly rose to the top, Workman said.
In addition to the time he spends in the county office, Depa works half days at Monroe and Adair Village each week with three half-days in Philomath.
“For Philomath it’s great because we now have a planner on staff in the building three days a week,” said Workman, a change from the previous setup when Philomath had Minard for just four hours on Tuesday mornings.
The schedule puts Depa in Philomath from 8 a.m.-noon on Monday and Tuesday mornings and from 1-5 p.m. Thursday afternoons. Workman said there is also an option to flex his time here and there to accommodate things like meetings and training.
In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, Depa participated in a flood management conference that the cities and county thought would be beneficial to him, especially since he’s new to Oregon.
“The cost savings for the people is great because we’re not handling his payroll, we’re not handling any of the HR (human resources), we’re just paying for the hours that he’s here,” Workman said. “So the fact that the county was willing to do that was great. It’s a nice partnership we’ve got with the county.”
Philomath had contracted with Tangent for the services of Minard, so a similar arrangement with another governmental entity is nothing new.
Monroe hasn’t had the services of a city planner. That’s partially because Minard was Monroe’s part-time administrator and he provided planning services as part of that job. But when he retired, that went away.
Workman believed it was important for the city planner to be in Philomath at least three times per week.
“We’re busy enough in that we have enough applications coming in for either new houses or new buildings going up or lot line adjustments and partitions and all that, that we needed someone here to answer those questions,” Workman said.
After his retirement, Minard did come back to help Philomath on a temporary basis until Depa got up and running.
Depa will be going to Philomath Planning Commission meetings to share staff reports or any information associated with pending projects.
“It’s been a little slower here but probably the biggest challenge will be just allocating enough time to each project and making sure they get out in a timely manner so they’re not waiting a whole week until I get back to them,” he said. “My biggest thing is I don’t want to keep people waiting; they have timeframes.”
Depa has a daughter who lives in Portland and he said he has been wanting to move to Oregon. He spent eight years in his previous position, working in the private sector for a developer. His past also includes 10-plus years working for municipalities — one as large as 60,000 people and another about 35,000.
“I cut my teeth in the bigger city and that was right from 2000 to 2008 during that big boom,” Depa said. “So we were doing a hundred cases a year — it was quite busy.”
Workman believes Depa’s experiences in each jurisdiction will give him a well-rounded comprehension of development code.
“He’s going to have a really good understanding of what’s happening countywide so as we get new trends coming down or if there’s new legislation, for example, that has code change requirements, he’s going to be able to take the point on that because he’s going to be making those changes in the county’s code, in Philomath’s code” and so on.
“We’ll still be able to customize it, things in Philomath will still be specific to Philomath but those statewide requirements or countywide requirements will be consistent through the jurisdictions, which is something we haven’t had before,” Workman added.
Workman also identifies a benefit to property owners that live in the city limits but on streets that fall under county control and want to submit an application for some sort of change. Instead of dealing with two jurisdictions, the applicant can just go see Depa.
“That’ll be a huge advantage for those property owners in town,” Workman said. “Typically, those tend to be more complex projects anyway. So that’ll be nice and we’ll have that added layer of coordination that we haven’t had before.”