Communities are constantly evolving and must update to meet new challenges. Proper oversight is essential to help foster safety, health, and longevity for cities as they are developing and redeveloping. From new builds to water infrastructure upgrades, the permitting, licensing, application, and inspection process plays a central role in supporting sustainable community development.
Cities, local governments, and utility organizations are responsible for receiving, reviewing, and issuing a wide variety of documents, including permits, applications, and licenses. Keeping up with all the activities associated with permitting and facilitating community engagement can feel overwhelming, especially if workflows are overly complex, communication silos exist, or demand outpaces available resources.
To combat these potential challenges, communities such as the City of Rexburg, Idaho; Bonneville County, Idaho; and Great Neck Water Pollution Control District (GNWPCD), New York; have adopted Cityworks PLL and Public Access to help streamline their permitting, application, and inspection workflows.
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Behind every project is an idea. An intent to improve drives projects from basement remodels to street excavation. Many people believe that the permitting process begins when an application or plan is submitted, but it actually begins much earlier. The purpose of permitting should be to help ideas become reality—to help a family build their dream home or to help a business grow and enrich a community. Residents and contractors need a convenient and transparent way to obtain the resources they need to realize those ideas. Efficient communication throughout the lifespan of a project is essential.
The City of Rexburg is one of many communities that have adopted Public Access to create an online portal (apply.rexburg.org) that allows residents, contractors, and businesses to submit applications, schedule inspections, communicate with the city, and track the status of their projects.
One of the main drivers behind the implementation of Public Access was the city’s desire to distance themselves from a paper-based workflow and streamline their permitting, application, and plan review processes. As Bret Stoddard, the building official for the City of Rexburg puts it, “We wanted to set up the best experience for our residents and contractors. We wanted it to be interactive and user-friendly. Our goal was to lessen our staff time, lessen confusion, and streamline our workflows.”
The city completely changed the way they do plan review, receiving plans through Public Access and utilizing DigEplan’s electronic plan review software to make edits and comments.
Permits, applications, and plans are now immediately funneled and organized into Cityworks PLL when they are submitted, which kicks off the permitting process. Customers are kept in the loop every step of the way through automated emails, as well as through updates to their public portal account.
“On our public portal, they can see what inspection they need to submit, track the progress of their permits, see if their fees have been paid, if their contractors have sent in their work acceptance forms, view plan reviews, and much more. It’s a huge communication piece for us,” notes Tawnya Grover, planning and zoning assistant for the City of Rexburg.
Permits, Applications, and Land Use
Public Access serves as the key that turns the ignition on the permitting, application, and inspection process. Cityworks PLL is the engine that propels projects forward. It is a GIS-centric solution designed specifically to help organizations simplify, organize, and track permitting and planning workflows from start to finish.
Since implementing Cityworks PLL in September 2020, Bonneville County has completed over 600 permits through a straightforward process. This has allowed the county to receive, review, and issue permits and applications ranging from construction and building permits to those related to flood plain, street excavation, certificate of occupancy, and more. Cases are organized and prioritized by permit number and come equipped with customized fields that display information pertinent to the specific type of permit, application, or inspection. Examples of custom fields include address, square footage, zone type, flood plain, water and sewer provider, and lot number.
When a resident or contractor submits an application, permit, or plan through the public portal, it automatically populates in preset queues or inboxes in Cityworks PLL. This ensures that the specific type of permit or application reaches the right department and workflow.
The City of Rexburg, a college town that has seen considerable growth in the last couple of years, is using Cityworks PLL to chart a new way forward. They are leveraging the software to complete 38 types of permits, applications, and inspections. They process, review, and approve permits relating to land use (rezoning, changing comp plans, city annexations, etc.), construction (infrastructure, civil site plans, etc.), plumbing, hydrant use, street excavation, and more.
Their extensive use of Cityworks PLL has greatly simplified their workflow and has allowed them to organize and track application, permitting, and inspection data in one digital location.
For Bonneville County, the robustness and customizability of Cityworks PLL was a driving factor in the replacement of their existing system. “Our legacy system was not doing what we needed it to. It would sometimes take up to 30 minutes to review one permit in the old system, and in Cityworks it only takes us 10 minutes,” says Gwyn Rhondeau, administrative assistant at Bonneville County. This allows the staff at Bonneville County to be more efficient and frees up considerable time for them to complete other important tasks.
Another Cityworks PLL feature that Bonneville County has found to be useful is the ability to generate custom reports. They are able to leverage their historical data and gain a better understanding of what is going on in their community by creating custom reports that detail everything from financial data on permits to what types of permits have been issued in a certain time window.
In the world of permitting, data is crucial, and historical data is just one type that can be analyzed. With over nine years of Cityworks PLL use under their belt, the city of Rexburg now has an expansive repository of historical location-based permitting data that can easily be referenced. “One good thing that we noticed is that the way that we do things today—going forward everything will be searchable and digital. When people submit things now, it will never be on paper. The sooner [permitting agencies] go digital, the easier it is to populate historic data and keep track of future data,” shares Stoddard.
GNWPCD has also benefited from their use of Cityworks PLL. With the help of POWER Engineers, they implemented Cityworks PLL in February 2021 to digitize, centralize, and streamline their permitting workflows and foster contactless communication and financial workflows between the city, contractors, and applicants.
Their current permitting, application, and financial workflows are more organized, and they have been able to leverage their data. “Using a system built for permitting is more user-friendly, provides greater functionality, and there are more opportunities for meaningful analysis,” says Michael Robbins, GIS specialist for GNWPCD.
Working off of the main panel in Cityworks PLL, GNWPCD has an organized view of cases and can fill out customized fields as well as issue permits. The ability to view project summaries and to view and print applications—as well as run Crystal Reports—in the same place has been extremely useful for the district. These features help them keep better records and ensure that cases are being completed. Thanks to Cityworks PLL’s comments section, cross-departmental and public-facing communication is more efficient.
GNWPCD has also been using the case data panel within Cityworks PLL to track engineering reviews on projects. Engineers are required to fill out hours and provide detailed comments on the specific cases they are working on. The ability to track engineers’ hours and work activities helps inform the fee collection process and keeps every department involved up to date on various projects.
Inspections & Fee Collection
Cityworks has also helped Bonneville County, City of Rexburg, and GNWPCD simplify and streamline workflows relating to inspections and fee collection.
Inspections are an integral part of the permitting process and help maintain the health, safety, and sustainability of communities. Whether it is an insulation inspection on a spec home or an inspection of machinery in a wastewater plant, Cityworks provides crews with real-time access to pertinent data, documents, and forms. For example, crews in Bonneville County use Cityworks Respond to pull up data associated with the inspection they are performing as well as to complete inspections.
All three communities have utilized Cityworks to create custom inspection templates that are filled out when performing an inspection. This allows inspectors to make comments that can be viewed by office staff as well as contractors and residents.
Fee collection and financial data can be difficult to stay on top of during the various phases of the permitting process. That is why organizations like GNWPCD have implemented Cityworks PLL and Public Access to help manage and track financial data on projects. GNWPCD has employed a “deposit for cost” system of fee collection. Instead of collecting a flat fee, the district collects a deposit based on an amount determined by project engineers and factors like project scope. This deposit is used to cover activities like site planning, plan review, and inspections. Any remaining funds from the initial deposit are reimbursed after the project is completed.
Cityworks helped streamline this process by allowing GNWPCD to set up custom fees based upon the specific engineer that is working on the project as well as the hours that they are working. Fees have been configured in Cityworks PLL Admin to reflect rate changes and annual raises. City staff and engineers are able to view deposit information on each individual project and can request additional funds if a project cannot be completed within the current budget. Property owners and contractors can easily make deposits on the GNWPCD’s open-access portal. Cityworks has also simplified the district’s refund process. Engineers have access to detailed financial reports and are able to process refunds more quickly.
GIS and Infrastructure
In Cityworks, GIS serves as a foundation that weaves through every step of the permitting, application, and inspection process. Use of GIS is deeply integrated into the City of Rexburg and Bonneville County’s workflows. Both these communities have the ability to track location-based data on historic, current, and future permits, licenses, applications, and inspections by utilizing event layers. “One of the neat things we can do with GIS is use the ‘search cases’ feature when viewing Cityworks maps. This allows us to pull up the historical data of everything that has been done in a specified area,” explains Young.
The permitting and application process also has a tendency to trigger GIS activities, especially when activities involving asset upgrades or new construction occur, Cityworks PLL allows communities to easily update public assets, add new streets, and perform addressing.
Cityworks PLL serves as a catalyst for many communities to simplify workflows and is helping to support growth and planning, health and safety, and long-term sustainability. It offers holistic solutions that keep pace with the growth and evolution of municipalities—ensuring that residents, contractors, and businesses have the tools necessary to enrich their cities through safe development. After all, the true purpose of community development, permitting, and licensing is to help communities grow by transforming ideas into reality.