The San Benito County department in charge of street repair has been as rocky as the roads it oversees.
Six months ago the director of the Resource Management Agency abruptly resigned and was replaced by a pair of consultants.
That move by county policy makers in March did not go down well with local union representatives, but now it seems there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that light is new agency director, John Guertin.
“I’m looking to bring some stability to the department,” said Guertin, whose first day on the job occurred last week. Previously, he worked at the Monterey County Resource Management Agency for nine years. “We’ll be looking at policies and procedures. Where there’s gaps, we’ll come up with new procedures. I want staff to be clear on what their role is and how to get people through the process faster. We want to be clear to the community how this works.”
The Resource Management Agency is a mammoth department that administers a wide array of critical county functions including issuing building permits, planning, street maintenance and code enforcement.
The agency will also assist the county with cannabis-related processes.
“Since it’s a land use process, we’ll be processing permits and taking the lead on any enforcement from a code enforcement perspective and working with the sheriff’s office,” Guertin said.
When Brent Barnes, the agency’s former director, resigned last March, the department was in the midst of a major restructuring. To fill the gap left by Barnes, the County Board of Supervisors hired Larry Perlin and James Walgren of Pleasanton-based engineering consulting firm 4Leaf, Inc. With Guertin at the helm of the agency, the two consultants will finish out the remainder of their contract with the county, which ends on March 15, 2018.
“We’ve had a difficult time recruiting and having an employee last in that post around a year or so,” Supervisor Robert Rivas said by phone Tuesday.
Rivas knows Guertin from his time working for Monterey County. While they didn’t work directly together, Rivas said Guertin understands the issues facing both San Benito County and the region as a whole.
“We face our challenges as a county and I expect John to hit the ground running and get our mega agency we created up and running to be as efficient as we intended it to be,” Rivas said.
As director of the multifaceted department, Guertin has an annual gross salary of $161,763.68.
“He is very well informed,” County Management Analyst Louie Valdez said. “He’s a great people person and he’s got a good vision of how he wants to take RMA forward. I think he’s going to do a great job.”
Former Hollister City Council Candidate Tim Burns used to work for Guertin in Monterey and informed him of the open position. He said the new director understands his resources and limitations.
“He’s a great guy, definitely a people person,” Burns said. “I think he’s a great acquisition for San Benito County. He understands the RMA concept thoroughly, as well as teamwork and collaboration. I’m excited he chose San Benito County.”
The first challenge of Guertin’s new role is staffing the agency.
“We need to restaff and fill all the vacancies,” Guertin said. “We need to restructure and provide cross training for staff. If someone goes out for an extended period of time there’s no one else to take on that role.”
Another top priority for Guertin is bolstering customer service.
“I want the community to come in and work with us,” Guertin said. To deal with the workload, the county is going to hire more planners. “We’re also going to look at restructuring the front counter to provide better customer service. It would help get people through the permit process faster. I know that’s been a focus for the supervisors.”
Guertin believes county funds derived from state and federal funding formulas are not sufficient to maintain the road infrastructure.
“We have the same problem in Monterey County,” he said.
Funding from Senate Bill 1, which raised gas tax and vehicle fees in California earlier this year to generate money for road maintenance is expected to provide San Benito County with $660,000 this fiscal year.
The county’s annual allocation is expected to increase in future years, however, this year’s allocation is a drop in the bucket compared to the $398 million it would take to fix all the roads in the county.
Additional funds for street maintenance could have been available to the county if voters had approved Measure P, the 30-year sales tax increase, last year.
However it is not always a lack of money that stalls important projects, but rather a shortage of personnel to do the work.
“There were a number of funding opportunities in the past for complicated bridge projects, seismic retrofitting and things like that,” Guertin said. “I believe San Benito County has received funding for those projects. We just haven’t had the crews.”