County, contractors work together on solving issues
“I’ve worked with county management and staff for the last four years,” says Barbara Bashall, executive director of the Nevada County Contractors’ Association, “and I think we’re getting somewhere!” This statement is music to my ears, since Bashall represents approximately 300 contractors who bring in about 30 percent of the permitting business at the Community Development Agency. The agency’s departments of building inspection, planning and environmental health are most closely involved with customers like Barbara and her contractors. The agency also serves the individual owner-builders who come in for a wide variety of permitting issues. During the active summer months, we provide services to over 1,200 customers a month.
Since last fall, it has been my job to work jointly with our staff team and our customers in ways that allow us to listen to and learn from each other. Most customers initially view the county as only a regulatory agency, so achieving our goal of effective and responsive customer service requires a lot of thought. Enter Barbara, who works tirelessly bringing customer issues and questions to the forefront.
“My contractors don’t usually see what’s going on behind the scenes or even notice the changes,” she says. ” They feel the pinch of time delays because they are business owners. When I bring issues to the county’s attention, I try to zero in on the result, the place where the customer feels it. I now know of changes happening in these departments that will dramatically and positively impact my contractors’ business dealings. We are looking forward to a centralized filing system and new software that will allow contractors to track the status of their permits. The county is even planning on putting a kiosk in our association offices for computer access to the software. I think of it as the next phase in changes, and it’s heartening.”
For almost a year, Barbara and several developers, contractors, and architects have been invited to join county staff to talk about concerns, problems, and barriers that hinder their ability to meet their goals on a timely basis. We focus on identifying the issues and working through them. We recently used real examples to develop a half-dozen site plans that illustrate the problems clearly for both sides. Now we are ready to explore solutions with our development community customers. This is where “the rubber meets the road.” We are committed to listening, talking, learning, and working out what will be an acceptable result for all concerned. At the same time, we need to balance public safety responsibilities that affect the entire community.
I feel our next meeting will definitely be a milestone in the progress of “slowly breaking down walls on both sides,” to use Barbara’s description. When asked what she expects from this meeting, the answer is simple.
“I know the County is looking for insights from our contractors,” says Barbara. “I hope we can leave the staff with an understanding of the challenges in the private sector. The good news is that there are already many things we have come to agree upon.”
Barbara’s contractors are not the only customers who have a vested interest in working on these solutions. We welcome all interested and potential customers to take part in this process of changing cultures and solving problems. Our permit counter employees handle questions regarding a wide variety of specific issues such as septic tanks, setbacks, and plan requirements, to name a few. We know that the services we offer our customers synergistically add up to bigger and more important things such as building homes and businesses, and making homes more enjoyable for our families. Our goal here in all the departments of the Community Development Agency is to keep our eyes on the big picture as we work together to address the pieces. It only works when we work together.
Mary Ann Newnan is the administrative services officer for the county’s Community Development Agency.
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