Port Orchard adopts on-line permit system

Eyes were wide at last week’s Port Orchard City Council meeting as a representative of Poulsbo-based Paladin Corp. showed city officials how easy it could be to retrieve, organize and file land-use permits through a paperless, on-line system.

The company spokesman was there at the request of Kitsap County, which is offering the cities the chance to sign up for the system in partnership with the county. The arrangement would allow cities to store all their land-use information on the main county system, but still maintain individual privacy and restrict access to the records.

“I’m very impressed,” said city Councilman John Clauson at the conclusion of the May 27 presentation.

Kitsap County has been using the Land Information System, developed by Paladin, since 2002. Paladin representative Robert Johnston said since switching from their manual system to the fully computerized system, county staff has seen a huge drop in the amount of time required to find, update and process permits.

Johnston said the amount of time required to process a county permit for a single-family home has been cut nearly in half, from 49 days to 26 days. In addition, the time it takes to do an inspection on a permit-related matter has dropped by half as well.

“There’s no need to pull paper files anymore,” Johnston said.

He explained the system has been set up in such a way that city employees could do just about anything with the electronic files they can currently do with the paper files. Supplemental information and notes can be added to the permit, permit history can be included and even pop-up alerts can be turned on to notify the user of any existing problems with the property or the landowner.

The system, Johnston continued, can also do things that would be impossible on paper.

For instance, staff can pull up a map of the parcel in question, then peel back “layers” of land-use designations to view the property’s relation to neighboring parcels and critical areas. The maps can show streets, neighboring parcel numbers and owners, terrain changes and slope, wetlands, streams and other potential areas of concern.

The assessment program can even calculate the value of specific parcels and keep track of what necessary fees have — or haven’t — been paid.

The system also includes a “tickler” program that pops up reminders of upcoming deadlines and scheduled actions. The user can ask the program to notify him or her every time a permit is about to expire or when a permit-related appeal is cue to be heard.

Most importantly, Johnston said, any city employee — even one with no planning background — can instantly see what’s going on with the permit at any time. That means if someone calls with a question on a specific permit, that person won’t have to wait for a call-back from someone on the planning staff.

It also has a menu of printable form letters for every possible contingency.

“It’s very intuitive to use,” Johnston said. “Staff doesn’t have to be specialized. (The county) brought in a temp and she was up and running four hours after she walked in the door.”

The basic system, including pro-rated yearly fees and start-up costs, will cost $10,000. After that, the yearly fee will be $7,500 as long as the city doesn’t sign up more than five users. Luckily, said city engineer Larry Curles, the city doesn’t expect to need more than five approved users for “many many years.”

The Paladin system does have other programs pertaining to financial and taxing services. However, right now the city is looking to start small with just the permitting system in place. City treasurer Kris Tompkins is currently in the process of switching over to a new accounting system and any additional systems would have to be cross-checked to make sure they wouldn’t interfere with existing software.

“What we’re trying to do right now is to become part of this program,” Curles said. “If all the cities are tied together, it means we all have same records. It just makes communication flow better.”

Curles said one of the biggest advantages will come with annexation proceedings. Without the Paladin system, the city would have to manually transfer the parcel records for each annexed property. If and when the city annexes McCormick Woods, that could mean transferring hundreds of individual records.

With an on-line link to the county records, Curles said the transfer could take place with literally a click of a button.

“Being on the same system as Kitsap County has untold benefits for us,” he said.

The city council unanimously approved a contract for the system. Port Orchard’s connection is expected to be up and running sometime this fall.

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