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Positions part of Bentonville budget talks

BENTONVILLE -- A City Council member asked for city administrators to consider adding a position in next year's budget to assist the Planning and Building Inspection departments as their dwindling staffs struggle to keep up with a demanding workload.

The request came from Ward 3 council member Bill Burckart during a Committee of the Whole meeting Monday night where council members and city officials discussed the 2018 budget.

Meeting information

Bentonville City Council will hold its regular meeting at 6 p.m. today in the Community Development Building at 305 S.W. A St.

The staff in both departments are overwhelmed, he said, adding that building inspections and building permits are taking much longer to obtain.

"They need additional support," Burckart said, explaining it would help the workload move more quickly and increase office morale.

The Planning Department has seen three people leave since August. Troy Galloway, community and economic development director, and Brian Bahr, economic development director, were both called to active military service. Shelli Kerr is serving as the interim community and economic development director. Beau Thompson, former senior planner, transferred to the Water Department.

Tyler Overstreet has since been hired as a city planner, which is providing the Planning Department with some relief, Kerr told the council.

"Building inspections is where I see we're getting the most bogged down right now," she said.

Mayor Bob McCaslin said there is an inspector who is out on medical leave.

Kerr never asked for additional positions Monday but fielded questions from council members.

Burckart recommended adding a clerical position to the front desk to answer phones and walk-in business. The person in charge of building permits could then focus on them without being interrupted, he said.

Two field inspectors are conducting 73 inspections a day on average, which equates to about 10 minutes an inspection, Burckart said.

"That's a safety issue at some point," he said.

It used to take 24 to 36 hours to provide a residential building permit. It takes between two to three weeks now, according to Kerr.

"It seems like it is a need right now," Ward 2 council member Tim Robinson said. "I'd agree with you, Bill."

Robinson said he's hearing the "same buzz" from developers that the process is a challenge and takes too long. He said the additional position could be absorbed through attrition if it was no longer needed.

"There are things that are not working as well as they used to," McCaslin said, adding that it's difficult to lose four people.

He and Kerr placed a notification on the door of the Community Development Building saying "Due to the increased volume in applications and low staffing levels, processing of building permits may take up to 10 or more days" to, McCaslin said, help manage expectations.

A clerical position would cost about $58,000, according to Denise Land, director of finance and administration.

Land walked council members through the rest of the drafted budget, which includes four other positions: an animal control officer for the Police Department, systems technician for the Information Technology Department, a crew leader for the Street Department and a warehouse worker for the Inventory Department.

The budget also recommends a 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase and 1.5 percent merit increase for all city employees.

The anticipated revenue is $163.5 million with $162.3 million in expenses, leaving $1.2 million.

"All in all, if you look at our bottom line, it's comparable to other years," Land said. "It's about $1.2 million. I think it's a healthy bottom line, and it does give us some room for some contingencies in 2018."

No action was taken on the budget Monday.

Council members also discussed how they want to fill the Ward 3, Position 1 seat left vacant by Tom Hoehn. Hoehn, who was appointed to the council in July, recently resigned and moved to Dallas for a job, McCaslin said.

George Spence, city attorney, told council members they could either appoint an interested person to the position or could hold a special election and let the citizens vote a replacement in.

It would cost $3,500 plus $500 for each polling site that would be open, Spence said, adding that the election would have two to three polling sites.

A special election would likely place someone in office around March, he added.

The City Council may decide tonight or at its Nov. 28 meeting which method to take.

NW News on 11/14/2017

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