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When the city of Corvallis implemented a construction excise tax in November 2016, one of the goals was to build up enough funds via the tax to pay for a planner to spearhead city affordable housing efforts.

Well, the funds are there, but the challenge for the city is the recruitment and hiring of the planner, which would be the first planner in the city’s Housing and Neighborhood Services Division.

Kent Weiss, the city’s housing and neighborhood services manager, noted Jan. 11 that the city was hopeful that the hire would be on the job by mid-February. The position is being funded by the city’s construction excise tax, which is levied on new housing and commercial development as part of the city’s push for more affordable housing.

However, at a Jan. 21 City Council work session both Community Development Director Paul Bilotta and City Manager Mark Shepard, said the affordable housing planner might not be on board until July. Both noted the specific challenge of hiring a planner to work in Corvallis.

“We’re not sure what is causing the current situation, but there is either a shortage of planners in Oregon or they do not want to come to this part of the Willamette Valley.” Bilotta said. “We have heard that other nearby cities, particularly Philomath and Sweet Home, are also struggling to find planners. We haven’t generated any significant applicant interest from Oregon planners for the last three planning job openings.”

Among recent housing hires only three planners, Aaron Harris. Tracy Carter and Jared Voice,  joined the city from elsewhere in Oregon. Harris and Carter are from Medford, and Voice is from Grants Pass. Other hires brought in Tracy Oulman for Housing and Neighborhoods Coordinator from Montana, code enforcer Todd Easton from Indiana and planners Carl Metz from Arizona, Rian Amiton from Texas and Liz Olmsted from Tennessee.

“And it isn’t a preference for out of state talent,” Billotta said. “That is just what we are getting as far as resumes and the number of resumes is usually a small number even with a national search.”

Bilotta added that it’s more than just planners.

“Hiring for the public sector is a struggle across the board right now,” he said. “For instance, finding people to fill building plan review/inspection jobs is a bit of a national crisis. Unemployment is low and the private sector can be more aggressive. A large number of Baby Boomers are retiring and there doesn’t seem to be the same number of people coming into public service to fill all those vacancies.

“Unfortunately, I think the nature of public service has changed a lot over my career. The national political scene is so much more divided and angry now. Workloads have expanded and resources are shrinking. It is sad, but I can understand why college graduates might be deciding to choose a different career. Losing that kind of talent in the public sector hurts the entire society.”

The good news, Bilotta said, is that his office interviewed candidates for the affordable housing planner on Wednesday. If a hire emerges from the applicant pool he could have someone in place by mid-March.

“If we aren't able to find someone in (Wednesday’s interviewing), it will probably take several weeks/months to find more folks to interview,” Bilotta said.

Which puts July 1 back into the equation.

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Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@gazettetimes.com or 541-758-9542. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.

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