Columbus debates filling town planner position, struggles to fill planning board seats

Published 3:12 pm Friday, May 29, 2009

Columbus Town Council debated last week whether to fill the town&squo;s soon to be open planner position. Current Columbus planner Daniel Hallstrom resigned and will be leaving the town in July.

After a long discussion Thursday, council decided to advertise the position, while also directing town manager Tim Holloman to explore other ways to meet the town&39;s planning needs. Holloman will talk with Polk County and municipal officials about getting some planning services from the county or sharing the costs of a planner with another town.

Columbus is also currently seeking planning board members. At one point last week, the town had only two members on its five member board. Planning board member Bonnie Tillman was the only member to attend a joint meeting with town council last Thursday.

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Council decided recently to split the town&39;s planning and zoning boards, creating a zoning board of adjustment using the former planning board members and looking for new members for the planning board. Few people have applied, and one member recently resigned for medical reasons. The planning board must have a minimum of three members in order to have a quorum.

The debate on filling the planner position was split, with council members Margaret Metcalf and Michael Gage saying leaving the position open could save the town money. Metcalf said in these economic times town manager Tim Holloman could do the job of the planner.

&dquo;I&squo;m not convinced we need a planner and I&squo;m certainly not convinced we need one full time,&dquo; Metcalf said.

But council members Richard Hall and Ricky McCallister along with Mayor Kathleen McMillian said that current planner Hallstrom is worth his weight in gold because he not only handles planning duties and code enforcement, he also helps the town with other duties, such as working on festivals.

Hall said he&squo;s been with the town when they didn&squo;t have a planner and when they did and it&squo;s definitely better with a full-time planner. The town used to contract with Benchmark for planning, building inspections and code enforcement, and most council members were against going back to that contract service because of the costs.

McMillian said if the town doesn&squo;t fill that position and Holloman has to do the job something else will not get done. McMillian, Hall and McCallister argued that both Holloman and Hallstrom are busy all day with projects and have no time to spare.

Gage said one of his problems with rehiring a planner is that the town will have to train a new person to do inspections and the new person may leave in a couple of years.

Holloman responded that he is willing to do whatever it takes for the town, but he really doesn&squo;t feel he can do both his job and Hallstrom&squo;s.

If the town decides to fill the position, officials say they want Hallstrom to train the new person before leaving.