City manager proposes new Community Development Department

Sunday, August 28, 2011 | 12:00 p.m. CDT; updated 1:50 p.m. CDT, Sunday, August 28, 2011

COLUMBIA — The proposed merger of three departments would consolidate development services in the city, from planning to ribbon-cutting.

City Manager Mike Matthes proposed the creation of a Community Development Department in Columbia's fiscal year 2012 budget, which takes effect Oct. 1 after City Council approval. The department would include the Office of Neighborhood Services, the Building and Site Development Division and the Planning and Development Department.

Tim Teddy, current director of the Planning and Development Department, would head the new department.

Matthes said he believes the merger will better serve both business owners and residents of Columbia.

“The main purpose is to provide much better customer service to individuals who want to invest in their property,” Matthes said.

The department, office and division are currently housed in different locations, which can lead to confusion and frustration during various stages in the development process, Teddy said. The merger will hopefully eliminate unnecessary complications in the development process.

“It means we are able to assist each other more readily,” Teddy said. “We are able to solve problems that cross departmental lines.”

Development approval, building permits, inspections and code enforcement are a few of the services that would be provided by the Community Development Department, if the council approves the proposal.

Matthes and Teddy agree the transition will be challenging, but worthwhile.

“Change is hard for most people,” Matthes said. “The real risk is that we go through with this, and, after a year, no one can tell the difference.”

Merging the department, office and division will take time and patience from city employees and customers. 

The Daniel Boone Building, where the new department would be housed, would require reorganizing, Teddy said. Moving the Office of Neighborhood Services could take as long as three months; its offices were recently moved to the former Fire Station No. 7 on South Providence Road.

After the new department is running, however, employees anticipate smoother operations and better customer service, Matthes said.

Don Stamper, executive director of the Central Missouri Development Council, said it is too early to have a firm stance on the merger but that the idea seems like an improvement. 

"We believe that efforts to streamline and consolidate will greatly serve the interests of the community," Stamper said.

Stamper emphasized that the success of the merger is in the details. A work session to discuss the merger is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Columbia Chamber of Commerce.

Funding for the new department would come from three main sources: general taxes, federal grants and limited funding from service fees for things such as building permits, inspections and rental license programs.

Matthes and Teddy expect the department to be approved, but know the change will take time and improvement will not be seen immediately.

“It will take a year to implement and be functioning. It won’t be fast moving, but once it is functioning, we hope to have significant improvement,” Matthes said.

The City Council is holding work sessions on the budget and will conduct public hearings at its regular meetings on Sept. 6 and Sept. 19.

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Dave Overfelt August 29, 2011 | 7:43 a.m.

If the only function of the Office of Neighborhood Services was to stress code enforcement then I would think this a good idea. However, the office is supposed to serve as the first access point for citizens and volunteers to engage with government. The folks over there have already done a great deal to develop new skills in neighborhood leaders and build new conduits for engagement. This office has only just begun its work and it is already under the gun! It indicates to me that the new City Manager doesn't have an interest in an engaged citizenry and, if this is the case, then he is indicating that he doesn't want to have a great city.

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