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Amador County Land Use Department

BACKGROUND

Land Use Department On March 16, 1999, the 1998-1999 Amador County Grand Jury Building and Planning Committee conducted a review of the Land Use Agency.

The Grand Jury review was limited to Department practices, policies and procedures, and the enforcement and interpretation of these by the current department director. To perform the review, the Building and Planning Committee interviewed current employees and management personnel.

The Land Use Agency consists of the Building, Planning, Environmental Health, and Code Enforcement Departments. The committee focused their agency review on the following three departments:

The Building Department

The Building Department functions to protect the public against hazards associated with construction, use and occupancy of buildings/structures. This function is carried out by enforcing building codes which regulate the design and construction of buildings and structures; including, but not limited to, site grading, structural, electrical, plumbing, and mechanical systems.

Historically, the Building Department generates revenue for Amador County by issuing permits and collecting fees for construction of any building located outside of the incorporated cities in the county.

Throughout the year, moneys collected by the Building Department fluctuate based on seasonal workflow. In the winter months, the number of construction projects is typically at its lowest point, equating to a decreased number of permits issued and fees collected. During this time, inspection staffing is adequate to meet demand for the Building Department's services. However, clerical support is needed throughout the year.

In the spring and summer months, however, construction activity is at its peak and the department may experience a significant increase in its workload. This increase often results in a need for additional manpower. Currently, there is no budget in place for the hiring of seasonal inspectors.

The Grand Jury Building and Planning Committee found the level of employee turnover in entry- level positions has been increasing over the past few years. Interviews with employees working in the Building Department indicate this turnover may be attributed to higher wages offered elsewhere for the same work.

As part of their job duties, building inspectors are required to check on the progress of various construction sites to which they are assigned. Some construction projects are located in mountainous terrain or other areas accessible only by four-wheel drive vehicle.

The Building Department provides vehicles for employees' use for performing inspections, but not four-wheel drive vehicles. This could result in a safety issue to those employees who must drive in inclement conditions on public and private roads. Building inspectors' vehicles are not equipped with tire chains for use during inclement weather.

Information is available from the Building Department to help guide citizens and contractors through the process required for obtaining permits and related documents. Building and permit fees have not been increased since 1992. At this time, the costs for these services are considered competitive since the charges are comparable to those collected by the incorporated cities within the county.

During interviews with the Building Department, the committee found there is no central archive for records storage. Very few Building Department information/records are available on computer, and cannot be easily retrieved through current systems. Interviews revealed records are located in various sites throughout the County. The current system of records management makes it challenging and time consuming to locate records when information is requested.

Current computer systems do not provide network capability. Employees must physically move to a computer(s) where the specific file(s) is located. Such action inconveniences both the employee who needs the information and the employee on whose computer the information resides. Ultimately, productivity is decreased because employees do not have access to the tools and information needed to perform their jobs.

Training on the use of computers has been minimal, and current Building Department software programs do not meet department needs. No local computer support is available. Interviews revealed serious concerns exist around Year 2000 (Y2K) compliance, since most of the computers in the Building Department are not yet Y2K compliant (as of March 16, 1999).

Planning Department

The purpose of the Planning Department is to administrate and enforce the county and state regulations regarding land development in accordance with the Amador County General Plan, zoning codes, the State Planning and Zoning Act, and the California Environmental Quality Act.

Due to time constraints, the Committee conducted a minimal review of the Planning Department. The review found that, like the Building Department, records are not maintained in one (1) location. Instead, they are stored in several sites throughout the County making it difficult to retrieve information when needed or requested.

Attempts have been made to reduce the amount of paperwork required within the Planning Department over the past few years. However, due to changes in State mandates and regulations, employees stated the paperwork necessary for compliance has increased steadily. This additional documentation has increased the time needed to process requests and has increased the need for clerical assistance.

Code Enforcement

This Division of the Land Use agency provides assistance to various County departments, principally Building, Planning, and Environmental Health, in bringing violators of code requirements into compliance. Code Enforcement is also the primary assistant to the Amador County Abandoned Vehicle Abatement Authority that is a State authorized program to remove abandoned, inoperative vehicles from public and private property within the County.

The Code Enforcement Department interacts with all other divisions within the Land Use Agency. This department utilizes procedures to obtain warrants when needed for violations. Such violations encompass a broad range of issues from monitoring septic tank problems to illegal housing.

The Department investigates all of the complaints received in an effort to determine their validity. Once validation of a complaint has been made, contact with the alleged offender is made via mail or in person. Specific actions needed to resolve the complaint are outlined, and follow up is made by the Department to ensure corrective measures are taken.

As stated above, the Code Enforcement Department is the primary assistant for the State's abandoned vehicle program. Code Enforcement is responsible for the administration of vehicle removal in all areas of the county, except the Cities of Jackson and Ione. The work associated with the Abandoned Vehicle Abatement program has been increasing in recent years, and now requires a significant amount of time to administer. This has created the need for additional clerical assistance for the Department.

FINDINGS

  1. Workload within the Building Department fluctuates throughout the year, creating the need for additional inspectors during the peak construction period.
  2. Employee turnover in entry level positions has increased in recent years.
  3. Current systems for information management are inadequate. Records have not been centralized, making it difficult for employees to retrieve documents when needed.
  4. Inspectors' training on the use of personal computers has been minimal.
  5. The majority of computers in the departments are not Y2K compliant.
  6. The computers are not linked through a network system. In order to access information, employees must physically move to a computer on which the file(s) is maintained.
  7. Appropriate vehicles for investigating complaints and inspecting building sites are not available. Lack of fourwheel drive vehicles for inspectors to use when performing their job duties poses serious safety concerns.
  8. Additional clerical support is not available when it's needed.
  9. The Cities of Jackson and Ione perform their own enforcement of the Abandoned Vehicle Abatement program.
  10. Tire chains are not standard equipment in all County vehicles.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. Budget for hiring additional inspection personnel during peak periods.
  2. Salaries of entry level inspectors should be reviewed for equitability with counties of comparable size.
  3. Develop and implement an action plan for centralizing all department records to one location.
  4. Provide additional training on the use of computers for all department employees. Establish performance guidelines and expectations that are linked to utilization of the new computer skills in order to increase the effectiveness of the training.
  5. Immediately take actions needed to ensure all department computers are Y2K compliant.
  6. Install a network system on all department computers so information can be shared electronically. Make files available to employees who must access the information needed in performing their jobs.
  7. Purchase four-wheel drive vehicle(s) for use in conducting inspections and/or investigations in areas where these vehicles are required for safe access by employees.
  8. Establish a clerical pool for interdepartmental use.
  9. Purchase tire chains for inspectors' vehicles.

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