Sometimes the best way to see what needs to be done to improve is to invite an outsider to take a look and provide insight on how to work more efficiently and how to improve customer service.
Last year, the county did just that with our Community Development Department, which recently underwent an organizational restructuring to streamline the development experience for contractors and residents to develop their homes and properties.
The changes, some of which are still being implemented, are outlined in the 268-page “Organizational Assessment of Community Development” report by Zucker Systems.
Zucker Systems specializes in development services, having done such assessments for nearly 200 different clients. The Zucker Report, as it’s known, provided county leadership with a roadmap to enhance the current levels of service and offered 364 recommendations for improving procedures within the department.
While not all recommendations were employed, the report and input from industry stakeholders allowed the county to take a step back to see how we could conduct business more efficiently for our customers.
The Zucker Report also came as the department was in a state of transition in leadership.
Our new director, Jay Christelman, moved back to Flagstaff in September from the Tucson suburb of Marana, where he worked on a similar task of helping make the development process less onerous and improving customer service. Christelman is a graduate of Northern Arizona University.
More than just streamlining procedures, Christelman, along with Deputy County Manager Larry Dannenfeldt, has worked to usher in a culture change within the department.
Since last year, the department has worked to condense building permit applications and forms to simplify the permitting process for large-scale developers and residents looking to simply remodel their kitchen or add onto their existing home. Applicants are now assigned a permit technician or case manager, who routes their permit application through the department to ensure the project has the proper approvals in a timely manner.
Previously, under the application approval process, staff aimed to return comments to applicants within the previously advertised 90 days. Today, about 90 percent of applicants have department comments returned within 15 days.
Staff members that were once assigned to our Public Works Department Engineering Division and Public Health Services District Environmental Quality Division were reassigned to Community Development to prevent applicants from potentially having to drive to two different county offices for projects involving septic systems or grading.
Community Development also hired a code compliance manager to enhance code enforcement coordination. Customers are now given a time range when building inspectors will be available to examine a structure.
Our inspectors and code enforcement officers play a vital role in ensuring that structures are built safely to protect the public and residents alike. In addition to public safety, property values are positively impacted by confirming that buildings are up to code.
The department also completely revamped its website at www.coconino.az.gov/communitydevelopment to make it easier for users.
While we still have room to further enhance our service levels and business processes, the County, department officials and members of the Board of Supervisors have received positive feedback from professional developers and do-it-yourself homeowners alike.
Ensuring great customer service makes great business sense and strengthens our commitment to our residents and business partners. FBN
Cynthia Seelhammer is a resident of Flagstaff and serves as Coconino County manager.