Searcy needs to hire a full-time city planner based on growth the city is experiencing, according to Mayor Kyle Osborne.
Osborne told the City Council on Thursday that he has been communicating with the code enforcement department and some contractors on the growth and “we feel that now is the time for Searcy to have a full-time planner.”
“I would also ask, if the council approves, that we keep [current city planner] Jim von Tungeln on board for six months or so to help acclimate whoever the new person would be.” City Attorney Buck Gibson added, “for even on a contract or as needed basis.”
According to the city of Searcy Human Resources Department, von Tungeln works as a contractor for the city and is paid $3,000 a month.
“What exactly would this [new] city planner do for us?” Councilman Don Raney asked.
Osborne answered, “The same things that Mr. von Tungeln is doing now and plus, I know this is going to sound crazy, anything else we can pile on him that he’s willing to take off code enforcement.
Asked by Raney where the position would be “in the city administration hierarchy,” Osborne replied, “Actually it would be a standalone position and he would answer to me and his office would be with code enforcement.”
Raney agreed that the full-time city planner position is needed, saying, “I think we’ve needed it for a while, if nothing else to coordinate the city’s efforts to do things. If we had a point person, we had one person who could help the city coordinate everything, I don’t see how it could do anything but help.”
Councilman David Morris agreed. “From my observations when I served up with the executive committee of the [Arkansas] Municipal League, I could see other cities our size, comparable, most every city our size has a full-time city planner.
“My question would be, would this particular position also be able to look out for grant opportunities and things of that nature and help secure grants?”
Osborne told Morris, “I don’t know if this person would actually do that. I’m sure there will be grant opportunities involving the whole city. I’m not trying to be evasive, but I’m not sure yet how much time he is going to have.”
Morris said that’s understandable, and “we will just have to see what kind of a workload is dictated in that particular position. But I agree with what Mr. Raney said. There again, most cities our size, have a full time city planner.”
Osborne said he would get back with the council on a recommendation for a salary and benefits.
Councilman Mike Chalenburg said he believed what Osborne was talking about was a long-range plan for the city. “That’s something we need somebody full time to shepherd [city planning] along over the years as well.”
Osborne said the city does “have numerous projects that we need to start, but finding the right person to continue to monitor those is a problem. We need that person.”
In November, Searcy voters approved making the city’s temporary 1-percent sales and use tax, which would have expired in June, permanent. Economic development and streets-related projects were listed in the city’s outline for using the tax revenue, while the mayor said the money was needed for operational expenses.
In the 2020 U.S. Census, Searcy was one of four cities in White County to show population growth, going up slightly from 22,858 to 22,937.
Councilman Chris Howell asked Osborne what kind of time frame Osborne was looking at for getting the information together on making the position full time. Osborne said he would try to have all the information by today’s 6 p.m. regular council meeting at the Carmichael Community Center.
“If the council agrees, we can start with the search next week,” he said.
Gibson said the position would have to be approved and budgeted as well and he said that could be done “in the upcoming budget.”
The council also discussed the possibility of taking another city position full time that the city added last fall on a contract basis for handling the city’s website, social media management and media relations support.
“As you know, we have been employing Ms. [Michele] Pugh and her company to manage our social media and website and I think she’s done a tremendous job,” Osborne said. “Alderman Rodger [Cargile] was communicating with her about the possibility of taking on this position full time and she agreed to do that if the council so desires.”
A few things that have been added to Pugh’s duties, Osborne said, including video reports and media releases.
“I think’s it’s important to have a continuity with our message and have a point person to brings that all together,” Howell said.
Pugh is being paid $$500 a week by the city for the service.
“$2,000 a month is $2,000 a month,” Raney said, “but if she can continue to stream the information we need to go to the public and the public can have ready access to it, I think it’s worth it.”
Osborne said Pugh does a great job with the city’s website and social media platforms. Gibson said making the position full time would have to be approved by the council.