Town, commission create planner post

By Alex Bridges

Strasburg and a regional agency have teamed up to fill a mutual need for planning services.

Town Manager Judson Rex said Strasburg and the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission recently came up with a plan to share the cost for a full-time planner. Rex explained that the town had money allocated in the current budget for a part-time code administrator but officials saw this initiative as a more efficient way to use the funds.

Both Strasburg and the commission had part-time positions they needed to fill.

“We thought that if we collaborated together we could create a full-time position and really capture a wider audience and probably get some better candidates,” Rex said. “It’s a good partnership that we’ve come up with.”

The commission’s Executive Director Martha Shickle echoed Rex’s remarks, noting that her agency had a position in its budget that went unfilled.

“We’re hoping that a full-time position will be more attractive,” Shickle said. “But it helps both of our agencies get more … human resources than we have available currently without the fiscal stress of trying to fund a full-time position in each organization.”

Shickle said she went to the commission’s board in January and advised them of the proposal.

“Although we have the funds in the current fiscal year to fund the full-time position, I didn’t feel like we had a certainty to be able to know for next fiscal year,” Shickle recalled.

The director said her board was receptive to the proposed, shared position.

The town and the commission recently began advertising the position. The commission will accept resumes and cover letters through March 26 with interviews to follow.

Shickle explained that the full-time planner would split his or her duties during the week between the commission and the town. The person would work under Strasburg’s Economic Development and Planning Manager Kimberly Murray for half the week.

The partnership should have no impact on the budgets of either the town or the commission. Strasburg’s budget already includes funds for a part-time position, Rex said.

The advertisement for the job on the commission’s website indicates the position would pay $30,000-$35,000. While working for the commission, the planner’s duties would include grant writing and administration, project management and local technical assistance within the region. In Strasburg, the planner’s responsibilities include the professional and technical work necessary to administer the town’s Unified Development Ordinance and its related activities.

The town doesn’t have the money in the budget to create a full-time planner position, Rex said.

“But we need somebody with the right skills and talent to help us,” Rex said. “I think it will be a great opportunity for us.”

The town’s current zoning administrator, Fred Wharton, works part time under Murray. His job focuses on enforcement of the town’s codes and permits. But as Rex noted, Wharton, who had already retired, was working for the town on a temporary basis to help with code enforcement.

“We definitely appreciated his help and we’ll keep using him here for the next couple of months,” Rex said.

The town is using the money on the zoning administrator’s position to help fund the full-time job. Rex said Wharton would no longer be working for the town once the position is filled.

Strasburg will need someone with skills in these areas, especially as the town puts into effect its new Unified Development Ordinance.

“We’re really going to need help with its implementation and administration and that’s what this planner position’s going to do,” Rex said.

The regional commission may entertain similar partnerships with other jurisdictions in the future, Rex noted.

“Hopefully we’ll create a model for other communities to do this,” Rex said.

Strasburg also must find a new downtown manager. Jennifer Keck recently resigned from the position and the town plans to advertise the job soon, Rex said.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com