Jackson County's home construction slowdown has contributed to job losses in local government planning departments. But many planners say commercial construction and big projects have kept them busy.

Jackson County's home construction slowdown has contributed to job losses in local government planning departments. But many planners say commercial construction and big projects have kept them busy.

"We've only had 18 residential permits since the first of the year," said Tom Humphrey, director of Central Point's Community Development Department.

For a city that had 200 to 300 permits annually just a few years ago, Humphrey said the slowdown has forced the consolidation of the building and planning departments.

Across the valley, planning and building departments are seeing sharp declines in permits for new housing construction. Because building and development fees are revenue sources, the slowdown also has pushed down the number of jobs in those departments.

The Jackson County Development Services Department cut the equivalent of nearly 12 full-time jobs in February and March out of a total of 55 positions because of the sharp downturn in building permits. This year the department has about 145 applications compared with about 200 at the same time last year.

In Central Point, 30 permits were issued in the last six months of 2007 but only 18 during the first six months this year.

"It has fallen off," said Humphrey.

With more commercial activity such as the new Providence medical building on Highway 99 and work on long-range planning, layoffs have been avoided so far, he said.

But Humphrey said that one of the city's two building inspector positions is budgeted only through the end of the year because of concerns over the downturn.

More commercial building activity could take place in Central Point on the east side of Interstate 5, which could help prevent staff reductions.

"We hope some projects tentatively approved by the Planning Commission come to fruition," said Humphrey.

In Medford, 49 residential building permits were issued in April compared with 117 in the same month of 2007, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

"It's been a dramatic change, but we still have a lot of work," said Bianca Petrou, assistant planning director in Medford.

She said her department has the equivalent of 2.4 vacancies that will remain unfilled unless the number of permits increases markedly.

The slowdown has meant paying more attention to long-range projects, such as working on the city's comprehensive plan. Eventually that will lead to expanding the city's urban-growth boundary, she said.

Much of the long-range planning had been given lower priority as city staffs tried to deal with the housing boom of the past five to seven years, said Petrou.

Even with the current slump, commercial building activity has remained relatively steady, she said.

Eagle Point planner Bunny Lincoln said permits have dropped off, but that doesn't mean there isn't any construction activity.

"We have lots of commercial activity and lots of interest in commercial activity," she said.

The number of residential permits taken out in Eagle Point has declined 20 percent, from 68 in fiscal year 2006-07 compared to 54 during the existing fiscal year.

The city is running low on developable land, so planners have been working on the urban-growth expansion, which would allow Eagle Point to grow, Lincoln said.

"We've maintained a solid staff all the way along," she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.