Harford Co.’s New Permits & Licensing Center is a Game Changer
Anyone familiar with Microsoft Project software can with the simple effort of inputting data, see clearly how easily a project can be blown out of the financial safe zone, with a couple of poorly timed delays. For years, in many communities, permitting was often one of those delays that could set a project on its ear and have investors and developers scrambling for cash or running back to a bank, hat in hand, for stop gap cash to keep the project moving forward.
As software to manage projects grew, more sophisticated projections could be made on what delays would cost and developers began to monitor the permitting process in different municipalities as part of their due diligence to determine whether or not a project was a wise investment of time and money. Indeed, in some areas the absolute dearth of new development projects, applications and plat submissions is an indicator that the government bureaucracy has grown too cumbersome to make new projects a sound investment.
Such a stigma on a municipality can have a lasting impact for years, even decades, as developers and investors, banking institutions and contractors steer clear of areas perceived by deed or inaction as being unfriendly toward business. That is certainly not a perception that is going to hamper Harford County.
Harford launched a new Permits & Licensing Center this year to make it easier to do business in the county with a goal of a “one-stop-shop” for most permits, licenses and inspections. The one-stop Permit Center will be able to expedite applications – and not just for the big construction projects – applications from dog licenses to building permits will be in what becomes an E-Z Pass lane.
To make this happen the administration of Harford County Executive Barry Glassman culled application reviewers from several departments, Planning and Zoning to Public Works, into a single workspace on the first floor of the County’s Administrative Office Building in downtown Bel Air at 220 S. Main St. A guide greets customers upon arrival at the Permit Center who then assists the customer through the entire application process.
“Feedback thus far on the Permit Center has been positive,” says Paul Lawder, Director of Harford County’s Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits (DILP). “Our customers appreciate the transparency.”
An open floor plan in the Permit Center further streamlines communication between employees who work together to review applications with customers having a front row seat to the progress. The prior space was, in essence, clearly indicative of the old process of permit review – small offices or cubicles, cumbersome to deal with and not focused on the customer.
Customers can visit the permit center for building permits and licenses, electrical permits and licenses, grading permits, dog licenses, plumbing/mechanical permits and licenses, and permit searches. Once the application gets to the payment portion of the process, the Treasury Department window nearby allows to easy access for application fees to be paid more conveniently.
The Permit Center, which opened Sept. 8, has hours Monday through Friday 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and can be reached by calling 410-638-3122.
Customers have a deep appreciation for the open process, which will be further streamlined with the full implementation of the electronic permitting process. This new electronic process known as “EnerGov” revolutionizes and modernizes the permit process and is being installed and tweaked to be available soon.
“Now we’re transitioning to EnerGov’s Web-based processing system, which will bring the Permit Center to the next level,” Lawder explains. “EnerGov will track work flows, improving accountability, and adding to our overall capabilities.”
Currently Harford County has eight different processing systems that can’t talk to each other, so data has to be entered into each one separately. EnerGov’s software will unify processing into one system that’s accessible to every county department involved in permitting, licensing, inspections and land management. “The next step after that will be a citizens’ access portal,” Lawder adds.
“Our Permit Center is a prime example of how my administration is restructuring local government to be more like your smartphone,” explains Glassman. “Smaller, faster and with better customer service,” he says to describe the permit center process. “I would like to thank my Director of Administration Billy Boniface and all our employees and contractors who worked diligently to open our new Permit Center on time and within budget.”
The Permit Center is part of Glassman’s overall plan to save money and optimize the use of county-owned facilities, and is paid for with savings on lease payments. “Our vision is to streamline our internal processes so that businesses and individual citizens will eventually be able to apply for and track approvals of their permits and licenses online at their convenience any time of the day or night,” says Glassman. I95