If everything goes as planned, members of the Cullman City Council hope to be in a position to make a decision regarding the community's first city planner by the end of the month.

A total of 11 applicants applied for the position and that number has been dwindled down to four. Their names were not released.

Two of the four finalists have been interviewed and City Council President Woody Jacobs said he hopes to conclude the interview process by week's end.

"If we can wrap up the interviews this week the plan is to evaluate the finalists next week and by the end of the month we hope to be ready to make a decision, which will be either to hire one of the current applicants or start the process over at a later date," Jacobs said.

Assisting Jacobs in the evaluations are Mayor Don Green, City Clerk Lucille Galin, Councilman Garlan Gudger Jr. and Building Inspector Rick Fulmer.

Asked if he expects a city planner to be hired from this particular group of finalists, Jacobs said he's optimistic.

"Some very good, skilled, experienced people with planning backgrounds have applied for the position. The decision, however, will come down to how well we believe a particular applicant will fit into our situation here and, of course, if they'll be willing to work for the salary we're offering," Jacobs said.

Council members have suggested a salary range of between $45,000 and $75,000, based on experience and education. Jacobs said those figures haven't changed.

With department head status, the new city planner will be responsible for general planning in the areas of capital improvements, land use, zoning ordinance administration, subdivision regulations, historic preservation and downtown revitalization.

The city planner will also be responsible for collaborating with city officials, the planning commission, and others in developing long and short term planning goals and objectives.

"What we've discussed with applicants during the interviews is whoever we hire, one of the first objectives will be to get that person here as soon as possible so they can start getting to know kind of where we're at in regard to planning and how we do things," Jacobs said. "Having them look at our mapping system will be a top priority. We'll expect them to show us how we can take what we have and integrate that into a more workable plan, along the lines of some of the things recommended as part of Outlook XXI."

At the center of the Outlook XXI proposal from a few years ago were comprehensive plans for both the city and county.

Green, an outspoken advocate for an updated comprehensive plan, sees that as being one of the city's most pressing needs.

"One of the initial tasks this person will assist with is the development of a comprehensive plan for the city. That's imperative," Green said. "We have not had a comprehensive plan for the city since the 1970s. We've accomplished most all of the objectives of that plan. We have a strategic plan in place which defines our roadways and transportation corridors, but now we need to fill in the puzzle.

"We've already been doing some things toward the comprehensive plan like changes to the building codes, adoption and revision of zoning ordinances, and extension of the central business district to include a portion of U.S. Highway 278 West, but there is so much more that needs to be done and we need someone in place with the education and expertise to lead that effort," Green said.

Councilman Garlan Gudger Jr., who has been at the forefront of efforts to implement a comprehensive plan for the city, said he and the other council members are excited to be this close to hiring a city planner.

"I think we're all excited about the prospect of having a city planner on board. It's important for the future planning of our city whether it's traffic flow, the location of an industry where it makes the best use of our property, or downtown revitalization," Gudger said. "An experienced city planner can organize and prioritize information and present it to the Council in a way that will enable us to make the best decisions for the future growth of our community and that should be important to everyone."

It's also important, Gudger said, for the Council to get it right the first time when hiring a planner.

"I want to make sure we hire the correct person to meet Cullman's needs the first time," Gudger said. "I really want to hit a home run on this."

Anyone who questions the need for a city planner, Green said, doesn't have a clear understanding of how valuable that person can be to a city's future growth and development.

"A city planner can help us pull all the aspects of zoning, infrastructure, roads and streets, water and sewer, fire protection and other city services together into one workable plan," Green said. "All we have to do now is hire the right person for the job."

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