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Making city permit applications a breeze
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Civic and community professionals filled the city’s development center designed to improve the flow of traffic for Mantecans seeking to take out building permits – large and small. - photo by GLENN KAHL
It’s something of a new concept at city hall: Work with your customers to make their lives easier and more productive.

City fathers and staff members prided themselves Thursday morning in the opening of the new Community Development Center that is geared to streamline the process of obtaining building permits for anything from installing a water heater to building a home, commercial buildings and even a subdivision.

 “I’m optimistic things will run smoother for the city and create jobs,” said Manteca developer Toni Marie Raymus of Raymus Homes.

If technician Shannon Sandoval’s personality is a measure of rolling out the welcome mat to Mantecans walking through the front door with her pleasant personality, there is no doubt the new operation will be a success.

She explained that nothing has changed as the need to have plan checks completed continues, but the city’s ability to more quickly accommodate the public is greatly improved because all the department representatives are now in one location.

In the scheme of things in servicing project planners and builders the counter has been set up in numbers from one to four where building staffers can give personal service focused one-on-one.  Even the fire department representative has a desk to the left of the counter.

For builders who have left information back in their office, there are two computers available in the lobby for their use.  They can go online and bring up the personal business information they need – possibly forgotten – and complete the process quickly.  In the past when an application was incomplete, the process would often have to start from scratch creating costly delays.  That promises to be no more with the new consolidation of departments.

A number of the smaller permits for re-roofs, water heaters, air conditioners and heating units can often be handled right at the counter with a permit issued while the citizen waits.

Community Development Director Mark Nelson eagerly greeted city council and planning commission members along with other staffers and developers to the elegant and spacious lobby of what was once referred to commonly as the building department.
“We really needed this four years ago,” said Mayor Willie Weatherford.  “We are judged by our performance.”

Former Mayor Jack Snyder credited everyone who joined together to make this work.  “This is a sign of the future and the community is going to benefit,” he said.  “Once people start coming in here, they are going to be very excited.”

Councilwoman Debby Moorhead recalled going on a field trip to Sunnyvale five years ago to visit a “one-stop-shop” permit center in operation that served as something of a catalyst for Manteca’s new development center.

She said she is thrilled to see Manteca has exceeded what they witnessed in Sunnyvale with all staff members cross-trained to better serve the public – and  settled in their positions.

Move saves $250,000 a year
City Manager Steve Pinkerton said he was given the “first priority” when he was hired to see the new permit center is operational as soon as possible.  He added that it was put into operation for 70 percent less than what was planned with the proper modifications making the difference.

Pinkerton said the city has saved $1 million in the process and will be saving $250,000 each year of its operation due to the consolidation of services – soon having to address other city hall consolidations.

Nelson added that what has been of equal importance in the new design of the building department is the cross training of staff members, and the focus on customer service with quality as the goal.

In the old system last week, one project manager had to wait half an hour just to drop off a $360,000 check to the city.  Under the new scheme of operation that will not happen, Nelson added.  Members of the public are promised to be in and out the door as quickly as possible.

In reference to the city manager, Nelson said, “Steve told me to build it and to build it fast.”

While the economy is admittedly slow, the Community Development Department serviced nearly 40 members of the public Thursday.  The technician acting in the role of receptionist is keeping track of the numbers they service with a clicker.