At his 2018 state-of-the-city address on March 12, New Haven Mayor Terry McDonald made reference to progress the city is making with its permitting processes and plans for their improvement this year.
The city is among 14 local government bodies in northeast Indiana participating in the Permitting Excellence Coalition, an effort spearheaded by the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership to streamline and improve the permitting process.
The project led to more convenient hours for permitting in New Haven a few years ago. This year, the city is looking at what it can do online with permitting and with the information it gathers through the process.
“We’re transitioning from the current platform to something a little easier,” said Dave Schaab, director of the city’s GIS department. “We’re (currently) using a very outdated database called ZonePro. It doesn’t have any online permitting software; it’s only housing our zoning permitting database. What we’re trying to accomplish here is getting all of our permitting in one place.”
The city is looking at migrating to the Accela Civic Platform, which is the same program Fort Wayne currently uses.
“Since they are the largest permitter in northeast Indiana and we work so closely with them, it makes the most sense,” Schaab said.
New Haven does not have its own building department, but works with Allen County to provide those services. New Haven also works with the county’s health and water and sewer departments.
In addition to providing a permitting web portal, the Accela programs provides a variety of tools to help governments operate more efficiently through the use of information systems. Its applications help handle government functions from asset, land and legislative management to licensing, finance, environmental health and utility billing.
Schaab noted the city is not in the process of purchasing at this point in time, but it is in the process of vetting Accela and fitting it into day-to-day business operations.
“What do we need and what do we not need; what do we want and will fit, and what do we want that doesn’t fit – that is the kind of analysis we’ve been going through,” he said. “We’ve gone through demos and have more demos set up. Part of the logistics is trying to figure out how our systems are going to talk to each other.”
Because New Haven and Fort Wayne are right next to each other, he said, some New Haven residents are on Fort Wayne sewer and water systems and would benefit from having them on the same type of system.
“Our goal for 2018 is to have a new permitting system, whether it be Accela or something else,” Schaab said. “It’s going to be so much easier to view information; it’s going to be so much easier to apply for a permit, and it’s going to make us as a government work faster so we can do more things for the residents. Responding to the residents as quickly as possible is our No. 1 goal, and this is going to help us do that.”
At the regional level, Permitting Excellence Coalition participants began seeking suggestions for improvement a few years ago from permit applicants through a standardized 16-question survey designed by the nonprofit High Performance Government, which has helped coordinate their efforts. Survey questions covered areas such as customer service, responsiveness, timeliness and availability of information. Responses help each governmental unit individually; and they can also compare notes with other permitting authorities.
As a result of the feedback, Whitley County/Columbia City made changes to its system to allow for the acceptance of credit card payments. The city of New Haven piloted an alternate-hours strategy where the planning department remains open after normal business hours one night per week to improve accessibility.
“Our business hours are 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., and if you work 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., that makes it difficult to get in to do permits,” Schaab said. “The Planning Department stays open Tuesday evenings during the spring, summer and fall months to accommodate that, but an online portal would make things so much easier in that regard.”
The HPG Network is a Fort Wayne-based nonprofit that works with governmental bodies and agencies throughout the state to help them improve their performance.
In terms of information Permitting Excellence Coalition participants are providing on their permitting processes, “they’ve all updated their websites,” said Joy Hudson, HPG vice president.
“They’ve made large strides in the last couple of years and we’re proud of the work they’ve done.”
Northeast Indiana jurisdictions participating in this effort are Allen County/City of Fort Wayne; Whitley County/Columbia City; the cities of New Haven, Huntington, Angola, Auburn, Wabash, Rome City, North Manchester and Decatur; and DeKalb, Huntington, LaGrange, and Wells counties.