Tehama County Board of Supervisors spent some time during recent meetings discussing the possibility of creating a development services department, which would encompass three departments – environmental health, building and planning, with a single director at the helm of all three who supervised three “deputies” within each department.

“What I'm looking at here is ways to find savings to the county budget by eliminating three director positions and replacing them with one overall director who manages secondary staff,” Supervisor Bob Williams said.

Tehama County currently has vacancies in both the Building Official and Director of Planning positions.

Bill Goodwin, county chief administrator, said those openings provide the board with the opportunity to revisit the concept of creating a development services department.

“The idea has been brought forward in the past and members of the development community expressed concerns about the impacts to future costs and efficiencies,” he added. “More recently I asked department heads if there were interested in combining with any other departments. No one said yes.”

Previously, in July, the board of supervisors held a discussion on the subject and requested additional information from staff, including information from Lake, Siskiyou, Yuba and Tuolumne counties, which each have a development services director, and the breakdown of their development services department salary totals.

“When this idea was brought up before, no one was in favor unless it made financial sense,” Williams said.

Referring to the chart that showed the comparisons of the four other counties, Williams added it was his vision for the development services department to be similar to Siskiyou County's setup.

According to the chart presented at the discussion, Siskiyou County has a director of community development, and a deputy in each of the departments of environmental health, planning and building divisions. The overall salary total for the program is $375,088.

“I had staff look into our current costs if we remained at status quo,” Williams said. “With three directors of the three individual departments, planning, building and environmental health – as well as the costs of the deputies or number two's in each department, the overall salary total in $467,489 annually.”

He then had the staff set up a plan similar to Siskiyou County's at the current director and deputy salary, but eliminated two director posts and added one individual to oversee all three departments and the deputies in each.

According to Williams, the annual salary cost was $359,061.

“I believe the numbers speak for themselves,” he added. “I understand there are feelings in the community, a perception, we are just creating another layer  and looking at the possibilities.”

During public comment on the agenda item, none of the speakers supported the consolidation idea and creation of a development services director.

One of those to speak was Tim Potanovic, director of Tehama County Environmental Health and interim building official.

“Many counties feel it is a benefit to have these type of combined structures, a one stop shop,” he said. “I believe they are doing it for more selfish reasons. When I meet with other directors from other counties I hear their frustrations with the combined department structure.”

Potanovic went on to say he believes keeping the county's planning, building and environmental health departments status quo allows more accountability and autonomy.

“I see that there needs to be improvements made in these departments and think that can happen, but not by combining them into one,” he added.

Williams went on to say he, “I can't disagree with anything said by the public here today, and I take huge value in what Tim Potanovic just told us. I believe if anyone would know how this is working in other counties it would be him.”

Williams had expressed in the past that he didn't support creating a development services department without seeing the numbers from other counties and the estimated numbers for Tehama County.

“This exercise here today was to see if there could be any cost savings without any consideration for the ability of the function of the program,” he said. “If we were to do this strictly from a financial point of view, when we figure in the need to hire a building official, the $108,428 savings difference would begin to dwindle.”

Goodwin said the focus the of the board shouldn't be on anything but deciding how to fund a qualified building director and planning director.

“We are without both, and we had one qualified building official applicant who said the salary we offered to hire him wasn't sufficient and we lost him as an applicant. That is where we need to be focused right now, funding and filling these positions, not on combining departments.”

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