May 24, 2002 11:00 pm

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

UNION — City Administrator Bill Searles is clear about his love for Union, the community he began working in a year and a half ago, and where he bought a home last August.

But he plans to leave his job June 7.

"It was one of the most difficult decisions I've had to make," he said of the chance to become a planner with the Oregon Department of Transportation. If the job would have involved moving, he wouldn't have taken it, he says.

But the decision came down to family.

Searles has an 8-year-old, a 6-year-old and he and his wife are adopting twin 2-year-olds.

"I need to look out for the best interests of my family," he said, "where I can be better able to provide for them."

Union, he said, is not able to pay the going rate for a manager that they should be paying. Additionally, "it's hard with this job to find quality time for the family."

What ODOT offered with the new job, Searles said, "made it really hard to say no."

The City of Union will probably begin advertising for a new city manager about the beginning of June, Searles said. He estimates the city could accept applications for about a month, and then begin the interviewing process.

"I would figure they'd make a decision by the first of September by the latest, hopefully sooner," Searles said about a new city


Since the city's budget process for the next year is just beginning, Searles hopes he can be available for city leaders during that process, maybe coming in evenings or


The budgeting process for the city is where most of Searles' time is being spent during his last weeks in office.

"When I started, I inherited a lot from Leonard (Almquist)," Searles explains, including finishing up a number of city projects, including Buffalo Peak Golf Course and the city's improved wastewater treatment system.

Searles' first year as Union administrator, he feels, was spent bringing those projects to a successful conclusion.

Since then, though, "I've been looking for ways to improve services without necessarily increasing fees or rates," he said.

If the ambulance and fire levy passed by Union voters last week holds up, Searles believes it could do far more than simply assure ambulance service.

By requiring less money from the general fund, Searles explains, the levy makes some money available for other services.

The new levy is set to begin being collected in July, and the full $45,000 that could be collected probably won't be needed, he said.

But with that budget news also comes bad news — the city has been notified that its cost for liability, property and health insurance will increase by $17,000 for the next year, up slightly more than 20 percent over the 2001-2002 budget. Searles has also learned that the city can expect additional huge insurance rate increases in the next several years.

All this, Searles points out, comes at a time when the general fund is increasing at perhaps $4,000 to $5,000 annually.

Community residents, Searles adds, must decide "what kind of services they want, and at what level people want to see those services. Something will have to give."

The challenge ahead for a small city such as Union isn't one Searles is completely willing to walk away from. He is considering running for office as a city councilor in the future, or staying involved in other ways.

Being administrator has been interesting, Searles said. "But I like challenge."

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