Steamboat Springs The Routt County Commissioners lifted their hiring freeze Tuesday and are expected to hire a new professional planner by the middle of next week.
Planning Director Chad Phillips told the commissioners in a memo that he had selected a Michigan woman, Rebecca Bessey, from among 43 applications for the position of Planner III.
“She has a great set of skills to bring to our office,” Phillips said Friday.
Phillips added that he was cleared to advertise the opening a month ago, in advance of the hiring freeze being lifted.
Bessey has a master’s degree in urban planning and more than 10 years of experience. She spent most of this decade in the private sector and won a series of awards for successfully consulting with Michigan communities on new master plans.
County Manager Tom Sullivan said that in the time since the county invoked its hiring freeze, the Planning Department has seen three planners leave the staff. Most recently, Planner III Ross Easterling resigned his position, Sullivan said. In addition, Sullivan said, the commissioners made the decision in mid-autumn to put off long-range planning initiatives and subsequently eliminated the position of assistant planning director held by Ellen Hoj. She officially leaves the county Jan. 1 but is on administrative leave, Sullivan said.
Earlier in the year, Planner I left the staff, he added, and the commissioners have concluded they are at minimum staffing levels in the department.
Before the recession and lagging sales tax revenues set in, Sullivan said, the county had a pair of Planner I’s and Planner III’s on staff, plus a Planner II.
The county has reduced its full-time equivalent, tax-supported employees by 20.8 this year.
On April 1, the commissioners responded to a projected $4.9 million budget shortfall by cutting employee pay by 10 percent and reducing hours for most staff. They have offset revenue shortfalls by reducing other costs and dipping into reserves. County staffers are expected to return to a 40-hour work week in January with the pay cut reduced to 5 percent.
As of the end of October, Sullivan said, 2009 revenues were $25,000 ahead of projections made last spring, and he anticipates a much more manageable $400,000 shortfall in 2010.
“Our budget is essentially balanced for next year,” Sullivan said.
Bessey has been employed by Birchler Arroyo Associates as a principal associate. She has received awards for assisting Michigan communities including Bridgewater, Adrian, Troy and Huntington Woods with master plans and comprehensive plans.
“Although she has limited experience working for government, she has been working closely with communities for nine years in a consulting role,” Phillips said.
He anticipates his department will work on two major gravel pit proposals and a coal mine expansion proposal in 2010.
Sullivan is looking ahead to another significant hiring early in the new year. Jan. 4 is the deadline for applications to fill the vacant position of Routt County communications director created by the recent departure of J.P. Harris. The commissioners had eliminated the position of assistant communications director, and longtime supervisor Sharon Clever has been acting as the interim director.