Permitting more flexibility
The Macomb County, Mich., Public Works Office has installed a computer program to manage soil erosion permits for new construction projects. The Web-based program is helping the office process and track a growing number of permits.
Michigan’s third-largest county, Macomb is home to more than 815,000 residents — an increase of 100,000 people since the 1990 census. The Public Works Office administers the state erosion control program in 24 of the county’s 27 municipalities. As more residents have moved to Macomb, the Soil Erosion and Sediment Control Division has been overloaded with requests for soil erosion permits. The permits are required for all new construction projects to enhance water quality by reducing polluted stormwater runoff at construction sites.
In 2003, the last full year for which statistics are available, the office issued 3,548 permits and conducted 19,844 inspections. The division had a mainframe program, but it only could issue soil erosion permits. To track permit violations, the division used a manual, paper-based process.
In spring 2003, the Public Works Office and the Macomb County Management Information Systems Department asked for proposals for a new soil erosion management program and agreed to divide the final cost. They wanted a program with simple data entry procedures and screen navigation, the ability to create ad hoc reports to supplement the system’s standard reports, and a completely Web-based platform, or one that allowed Web interaction, so inspectors could access the program in the field.
Macomb County selected a Web-based program from Dublin, Calif.-based Accela in June 2004, and implementation began the following month. The program was configured to match the existing business processes of the Public Works Office, so employees did not have to learn new procedures — just a new software application. The new system, including hardware upgrades and software, cost $226,000.
The program allows the office to track and manage all permitting activities, including application check-in, plan reviews, fee calculation and collection, and inspections. The county also installed an application that allows inspection teams to shift many daily tasks from the office to the field. Previously, they would complete inspections using paper forms that were typed by secretaries once inspectors returned to the office. Violations also were typed in the office and mailed to property owners.
Now, five inspectors are equipped with wireless tablets that allow them to remotely access their daily inspection schedules, input their inspection results and update the agency database immediately. They also have printers in their vehicles so they can issue violations on the spot. By having permit data available remotely, inspectors can spend more time in the field completing inspections.
The county launched its new soil erosion management system in October 2004. In the first few months, the most notable improvement has been in the division’s ability to immediately report revenue from fines to the county treasurer. Before using the system, the division would spend at least half a day each week compiling those reports for the county treasurer. Now, the reports are generated instantly.