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City contemplating planning future

Madras may have to dip into general fund dollars to support a community development department
News Editor
   As another calendar year comes to pass and a surge in population growth remains just over the horizon for the Madras area, city officials are pondering the uncertain future of their planning department.
   This month, City Administrator Steve Bogart said he will deliver a recommendation to the City Council regarding how it should staff and fund a Community Development Department that so far is $22,000 in the red for the 2001-02 fiscal year.
   Madras' size puts it on the bubble between cities with full-time planning staffs and those that contract out their planning matters. Most cities with full-time planning staffs -- which handle sign applications, building permits, site plan reviews and the works when it comes to land-use issues -- strive to make them self-supporting through land-use permit fee receipts.
   With a population estimated to reach 12,000 in the next 20 years -- a prediction largely contingent on the state prison's arrival -- some say it is imperative that Madras have a consistent, possibly full-time planning director.
   But the decision before the City Council will be how to fund the position because, right now, the planning fee receipts just aren't there.
   "It's obvious we need to get somebody on board," Mayor Rick Allen said. "And we are probably going to have to pay for it through the general fund."
   Chris Bedsaul, Madras' interim planning director, has been working on a four-month, $19,200 contract that expires this month. However, the city has enough grant money to extend his contract through the first week of May so that he can complete the work he was hired to do: help Madras through a process of expanding its Urban Growth Boundary and updating the Transportation Systems Plan contained in a 1,500-page document completed by a land-use firm.
   Where does Madras go after Bedsaul's contract has expired?
   "Big question," Bogart said. "Every community has its own dynamics. There is enough activity in Madras to justify a full-time planner but there isn't the budget authority or dollars to fund it."
   In an effort to make its planning department self-supporting, the Redmond City Council recently announced proposed increases in land-use permits that would more than double the cost of some applications. That announcement has been met with mixed reviews.
   "I wouldn't support raising the fees," Bedsaul offered when asked his opinion on that route. "Would the fees be raised to keep people busy, or could you do the work with less staff?"
   Allen said Madras would have to quadruple the cost of its land-use permits to make a full-time, self-supporting planning department possible.
   Madras Finance Director Brenda Black said the city would need between $130,000-$150,000 in planning fees to support a full-time planner and clerical assistant.
   As of Nov. 30 the Community Development Department had received only $28,900 of the $85,332 budgeted for land-use permit fees in 2001-02, Bogart said. The department collected $47,059 during the 2000-01 fiscal year.
   "The city is going to have to subsidize (planning) in the near future," Bogart said.
   To date, Madras has been able to squeak by without using general fund money to cover its planning department.
   The city received state grants to hire Bedsaul after a rather shaky few years in the planning arena. The Department of Land Conservation gave the city $10,000 and the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department added another $20,000 to help Madras finish the periodic review it began in 1997. It includes the TSP and UGB updates.
   Before 1999, Madras' planning was contracted out to the Jefferson County Community Development Department.
   Bedsaul served as its planning director for 3 1/2 years before resigning this July. In 1999, the county terminated the contract with the city to, in Bedsaul's words, "continue financial stability."
   The city used to pay Jefferson County $20,000 per year to handle its planning and the county got to keep all the application fees. Bedsaul said the county would have faced a potential $120,000 loss that year if he hadn't terminated the contract.
   "The city's planning department was then in a state of chaos, so to speak, along with the city administrator," Bedsaul said.
   Madras was forced to hire a planning director, John Hanken, but he stayed just one year. Former city administrator Bill Sizemore then hired a permit technician and all the planning fell into his lap. But that position was eliminated recently with the arrival of Bedsaul and because of budget constraints.
   While Madras' planning department sputtered, the county's became firmly self-supporting and even produced a surplus under Bedsaul that still exists today.
   That surplus, however, has dwindled this year, which underscores the recent slow down in the area's growth. "It's not sick," Jefferson County Administrator Mike Morgan said, "but it's not healthy right now."
   Bedsaul, who works between 16-20 hours per week, said he has expressed interest in working with the city on a long-term contractual basis.
   He thinks the job, under the current climate, can be done part time.
   "I certainly feel there is a need for a consistent planner to be available to the city," Bedsaul said. "But you physically don't need to have a person here all the time if you're able to be responsive to the public."