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Lewis panel approves creation of hybrid planning/trails post

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LOWVILLE — A Lewis County legislative panel on Thursday signed off on creation of a hybrid planning position as part of a proposed office restructuring.

The legislative Economic Development Committee authorized the hiring of a person who would split time on planning and trail development duties, although the full Board of Legislators will need to approve the proposal.

“I think it’s going to save money,” Eric J. Virkler, director of economic development and planning, told lawmakers.

Mr. Virkler said the new person would be shared by his department and Recreational Trail Coordinator Jacqueline L. Mahoney, who also works in the economic development office suite.

While the exact breakdown of duties has yet to be determined, the person potentially would have close to a 50-50 split, with the trail side likely including planning of events like snowkiting and kayak races.

Even with the recent addition of a new senior planner, the office has only four people, including Mrs. Mahoney, who soon may be handling the work that 6 people were doing at the end of last year.

After part-time county forester Rodney D. Buckingham stepped down recently, lawmakers asked Mrs. Mahoney, who has a strong timber background, to oversee county reforestation land.

The Office for the Aging soon will be giving up oversight of the county’s public transit system due to a conflict with some other program funding, and Mr. Virkler said his department — which already handles some state reporting for the bus system — could pick that up. State Department of Transportation funding for administration could then be used to help pay for the new hire, he said.

An additional employee also would free up more time to apply for grant funding for economic development and trails, Mr. Virkler said.

While the economic development director offered to develop a more detailed plan to present to the committee next month, lawmakers indicated that they would prefer to move forward with the proposal right away.

“If these numbers are correct, if you can stay under your budget, I have no problem going out and recruiting right now,” said committee member Charles R. Fanning, R-Copenhagen.

“As long as the money is already there,” said committee Chairman Richard C. Lucas, R-Barnes Corners.

Mr. Virkler said he would work with Civil Service to develop a modified job description prior to the next Board of Legislators meeting in a few weeks.

The committee also approved a request from Mrs. Mahoney to purchase an iPad, for roughly $700, from within her budget to promote more efficient field work.

“It saves us time,” she said. “And, to me, it’s a development tool.”

The device, which is already in use by Soil and Water Conservation District officials, may be used to take pictures, pinpoint GPS locations and view aerial and topographical maps from the field, Mrs. Mahoney said, noting that she currently doesn’t have use of a camera.

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