Vancouver merges offices for savings

Community, economic development work will be served by single staff

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

Vancouver is combining its community development and economic development departments, and is preparing to debut a paperless permit system early next year.

With a vast slow-down of construction and development, community development has been among the hardest hit in the city’s staff cuts -- losing about 50 percent of staff since 2010. Another 20 to 30 percent of the department’s staff is expected to retire in the next five years, the city said.

The new department, called Community and Economic Development, will have two sections with just over 60 employees.

The first section will be development, which includes land use review, permits, building plan review, and inspection and code compliance. The second will be planning and plan implementation, which includes long-range planning, economic development, block-grant programs and parking.

Planning and Plan Implementation Manager Alisa Pyszka, formerly the city’s economic development manager, said Friday that there “is some concern” about the loss of staff. No further layoffs are planned, but the department size might diminish as people retire.

“But absent any other revenues, we have to work to fully utilize staff,” Pyszka said.

She said the department will now have a “cross-pollination” in training all members of the department in multiple tasks, so workers can “fill in if there’s any gaps on one side or the other.”

Businesses and builders should not expect any delays in permitting, Pyszka said. The department will also start electronic permitting in 2013, which will make the process even faster, she said.

On the long-range planning side, Pyszka said, the city will move from creating sub-area plans to implementing the ones that it has created.

Community Development Director Laura Hudson will head the new department until her retirement early next year. Planning Review Manager Chad Eiken will then take over.

Hudson said Friday the streamlining “wasn’t easy, but it’s what we had to do.”

Pyszka said that despite the losses, she expects the new department to run smoothly.

“Even though we are having reduced staff, we have a really mature staff that has great institutional knowledge and is really professional,” she said.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542; http://www.twitter.com/col_cityhall; andrea.damewood@columbian.com.