Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Tuesday, March 12 @ 3:20 p.m. / Community, Economy, Local Government

Del Norte Supervisors Approve Strategic Plan's 'Foundational Elements'; Action Areas Include Reducing County's Vacancy Rates


Employee Retention, Housing, Jobs and Infrastructure Top The List of Priorities Mentioned At Del Norte's Strategic Plan Workshop


Echoing meeting regular Branden Bieber, Randy Hooper presented a bold timeline for Del Norte County’s strategic plan, telling elected officials Tuesday that he wanted them to see a final document by April 23.

Del Norte’s assistant county administrative officer outlined the plan’s vision, mission and goals. He also touched on several possible action items, which range from addressing staff vacancies to combatting homelessness and improving county programs and services.

But District 3 Supervisor Chris Howard urged his colleagues to slow the process down and take time to get more community input.

“It’s going to be tough to do some of these without the proper resources,” he said. “And a lot of this is driven by general fund activity and the bottom line is our general fund, to a certain extent, at least since I’ve been on the board, really hasn’t moved much at all. And to accomplish these things I think there are probably certain areas that need to come first.”

Hooper’s presentation came about two weeks after the Board of Supervisors met Municipal Resource Group project manager Don Ashton, who is the third-party facilitator working with Del Norte to draft its strategic plan.

He said he plans to bring a draft plan to the Board of Supervisors by April 9 and a final plan on April 23. This includes access to the ClearPlans for Civic software for county supervisors and the public as well as establishing a “public portal.”

The Board voted 4-0-1 in favor of approving the strategic plan’s foundational elements. Board Chairman Dean Wilson was absent.

Hooper outlined the strategic plan’s foundational elements after Katie Hampson, interim social services program manager said 21 out of a total of 45 positions within the Social Services Branch were vacant. Twelve of those positions are social worker, case-carrying and investigating positions, she told supervisors.

“The majority of staff who are no longer employed have left the department for higher wages with other agencies,” Hampson said.

The Social Services staff has a total of 119 open cases with an average of about 24 cases per five staff with one worker carrying 44 cases, Hampson said. Referring to information she received from the state, Hampson said investigative workers should manage no more than 12 active cases at a time and no more than eight new investigations.

Ongoing and preventative social workers should carry no more than 15 to 18 cases at a time, she said, with no more than 10 children being in out-of-home placement.

“Historically our staff have operated with much smaller and manageable caseloads,” she said. “Currently, [in] our emergency response unit we have one supervisor and one social worker with the supervisor carrying a caseload of 53 open case investigations. With the influx of staff leaving the department, it causes an increase in our caseload numbers, which is impacting our ability to carry out services.”

Hampson’s outline of the Social Services Branch was a prime example of a department saying it didn’t have the resources it needed, its vacancy rate is unsustainable and its employees are being impacted, Hooper told supervisors.

The action items he outlined in the first of the strategic plan’s four focus areas — addressing county staffing and capacity — included improving recruitment and expediting the hiring process as well as reducing employee turnover and increasing staff retention.

Hooper also said the last goal in the plan’s county staffing focus area involved improving housing access for staff.

“This last one might be predictable but I wasn’t fully thinking that it would emerge from this process although it is something that after it was repeated several times it’s pretty obvious that this is a limitation,” he said. “When we have potential employees who can’t find housing or current employees who can’t keep housing, it affects your workforce.”

The strategic plan’s second focus area touches on infrastructure and economic development. This includes improving county infrastructures as well as the aesthetics of it facilities.
Economic development also occurred with “virtually everyone we spoke to,” Hooper said.

At a community workshop on Feb. 29, Fort Dick resident Amanda Ammon, who works with True North Organizing Network, spoke of on-the-job training, conducting public outreach with a list of job openings and shops that were hiring.

Del Norte County Employees Association president Norma Williams also urged leaders to try to bring industry to the community. She pointed to a number of empty buildings in Crescent City’s downtown, saying they were “literally rotting [and] disintegrating.”

When it comes to law, justice and homelessness in Del Norte County’s strategic plan — the third focus area — Hooper pointed to action the county took last year in response to a report from the Office of the State Public Defender.

Those steps included creating a managed assigned counsel public defender’s office, which included hiring a county public defender, a legal secretary, contracting with an investigator and implementing a centralized case management system.

Though the Board addressed this issue last year, there may be steps for improvement, Hooper said.

“Whenever solutions are presented, I suspect they won’t be a total surprise, but it will just be a matter of, ‘how do we do it?’” Hooper told supervisors.

Hooper also pointed out that the Board of Supervisors is already addressing community homeless in a proactive and collaborative manner through an ad-hoc committee and its partnership with Del Norte Mission Possible.

On Tuesday after Hooper’s presentation, the Board of Supervisors voted 4-0-1 to extend a shelter crisis they declared existed last year. They also waived competitive bidding requirements on the construction of an emergency homeless shelter and micro village site the county is pursuing with $10.8 million in state Encampment Resolution Funding dollars.

Within the fourth focus area goal involving general governance and budget, one of the most important items, according to Hooper, is maintaining the county’s core service levels. Fiscal responsibility was also brought up as was improving oversight of county programs and services. Hooper pointed to discussions staff has had with Ashton regarding structure.

There was also a question of how to go about embedding strategic planning into the county’s culture and budget process, Hooper said.

“Based on the conversations we’ve had, at least preliminarily, whenever the Board takes action on any given item, how does it relate to the plan?” Hooper said. “That should take a lot of the work out of the debates that happen whenever certain issues arise later that tie specifically to the plan.

Following Hooper’s presentation, Williams referred to an item in the plan’s values statement, that the county’s employees are its single greatest resource.

“County employees have always known that as far back as I remember and I’ve been here with 30 years,” she said. “We’ve made sacrifices along the way whenever we’ve needed to; when budgets and economic times warranted it and we did so willingly to protect and preserve jobs.”

Williams noted that elected officials may think of salaries when they hear employees are leaving the county, but she said that’s not the only reason. She urged them to do a deep dive on why staff are leaving.

“My question, which I know you can’t answer, [is] do you really know within each department, within each sub-unit or branch or even units within those branches what the vacancy rates are?” Williams asked. “That’s something you should ask.”

Howard asked his colleagues to consider prioritizing which focus area needed the most attention. In his opinion that was economic development. Referring to a statement U.C. Cooperative Extension representative Alec Dompka made at a panel discussion focusing on offshore wind March 2, Howard said the community needs to diversify its economic development.

“We’re not diverse, and for obvious reasons,” Howard said. “Things have crumbled, our natural resource-driven economy has crumbled a long time ago and trying to build areas around the economy has come slow. We need to [find] ways to increase revenues outside of taxation to our bottomline, which in turn impacts our general fund.”


© 2024 Lost Coast Communications Contact: