Convenience with a click
Torrance, Calif., issues about 2,000 building permits each year. The city issues thousands more each year for contractors performing electrical work, plumbing and the like, and it processes about 1,000 permit applications per month.
Internet-based technology allows the city, as well as local business owners, to keep up with permits, licenses and other business-related paperwork in an organized fashion. Using the city’s e-apply system from Seattle-based Tidemark, Torrance businesses can make queries about their permits by entering the business address, case number or project name online. A report shows every detail about the application, including the owner’s name, address, project description, fees, current status, dates the application was received, processed and approved/ denied, and comments from the city.
“We’re able to do a lot more online, and keep better track of cases,” says Curt Dittman, plans examiner for Torrance. The system is most commonly used by building contractors or architects, he notes. Torrance also is planning to add online functions for scheduling facilities inspections.
Sunnyvale, Calif., already has that function for its local business owners through e-permits, the city’s online permit application system. Users can select the permit they need (electrical, sewer, water, etc.) along with the type of facility (residential, commercial, recreational, etc.), enter the project’s address and a credit card number, and apply and pay for their permits with a few mouse clicks. They also can select a time for their initial building inspection by a city official.
“Some people can spend two hours or even half a day in a city office getting a permit,” says Sunnyvale Building Official Ali Fatapour. “Now, many of them can do it at home.”
The online applications can be used only for those permits that do not require city officials to review construction plans, Fatapour notes. However, contractors requesting permits that require plan review will soon be able to file their requests for permits, along with their plans, online. The city is currently working with San Rafael, Calif.-based Autodesk to develop a customized version of the company’s electronic plan check software.
In addition, frequent applicants can register permanently with e-permits so that they do not have to enter their contact information each time they need to submit a request. By registering with the service, they also receive e-mails with updates and changes for laws and building codes.
While some local governments allow business owners to fill out applications online, nearly all government agencies, including Sunnyvale, let users download the forms, complete them by hand and return them to the appropriate office. Because permits frequently require payment up front, Ferguson, Mo., requires users to mail their forms because the city does not yet accept online transactions. However, being able to print out the form from their computers saves business owners a trip to the city office to pick up the form, says Julie Szymula, assistant city manager for Ferguson.
Conyers, Ga., keeps a large list of downloadable permits on its web site as part of its virtual government system, developed by VC3, Columbia, S.C. The pdf files include permits for anything from alcohol licenses to HVAC and plumbing work permits. Users are requested to download and complete the forms, and then deliver them with payments to the appropriate city office.
As a suburb of Atlanta, Conyers draws many contractors, architects and other firms requiring construction-related permits from the metro area. “The city realized that a lot of the people doing business in Conyers didn’t necessarily live in Conyers,” says Stacy Jones, director of tourism and public affairs for the city. “Using the online forms saves them an extra trip to the city offices.”
Later this year, the city will add a function for users to complete the forms online and e-mail them to the city along with their electronic payments. Currently, businesses and residents can pay property taxes online.
Applying for business permits and paying taxes is easier than it has ever been. New business owners, as well as existing firms and contractors, now can take care of many government-related “housekeeping” items online through functions such as e-permits. That allows them to focus more time on their regular business and spend less time in someone else’s office.