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Kootenai County commissioners reorganize departments

The Kootenai County Board of Commissioners – with two newly elected members – recently cut 10 positions and reorganized some departments, resulting in savings estimated at $415,000 a year.

Commissioner Dan Green said an internal review began with the previous administration and continued when he and Commissioner Jai Nelson took office in January, resulting in the changes.

“We’re trying to develop better processes so we’re more efficient,” Green said.

Seven positions were cut from the county’s building and planning department, one from the commissioner’s office and two from the juvenile detention division. In addition, the building and planning department has been reorganized and renamed the Department of Community Development.

However, not all the eliminated positions resulted in layoffs, said Scott Clark, director of the Community Development department. Two people were laid off, but some of the cutbacks resulted from not filling vacancies, he said.

In addition, four new positions have been created to provide more supervision within that department – a planning manager, deputy building official, code enforcement deputy and an executive administrative position.

“Creating these positions … is going to help empower each of those divisions to work and provide what we hope will be improved customer service and response times,” Clark said. “Each one can work more independently and get things done.”

The community development department, which recently instituted online building permit applications, also will soon be taking credit and debit card payments, Clark said.

Green said members of the building community in the past criticized what they saw as an onerous process. In response, the county has established new service standards for the department, including times during which customers must be assisted and phones must be answered. Times have also been established during which, for example, planning conferences must be conducted and site inspections completed.

J.T. Taylor, director of Juvenile Detention, said his department laid off two people in February because the need for detention has fallen significantly. In 2007-’08, the detention center was housing an average of 51 juveniles per day, he said. That dropped to 34 in 2010-’11.

That doesn’t mean less crime is being committed by juveniles. The decline results more from finding alternatives to jail time that address needs such as substance abuse and mental health issues, Taylor said. The county is entering its fourth year of having a mental health clinician available at the juvenile detention center to help connect kids with services they need. In addition, more young offenders are being sent to places such as group homes instead of jail, he said.

“The judges are really invested in doing what’s best for the juveniles,” Taylor said.

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