Proposed Permit Process May Cost County $500K

SNOW HILL – Simplifying the building permit process for
small projects could cost the county big bucks, staff told the Worcester County
Commissioners at Tuesday’s budget work session.

Talk of adding an online application process for building
permits of all stripes, and adding mapping functions online, would require a
lot of work and staff, said Ed Tudor, director of Development Review and
Permitting.

“I’m projecting half a million dollars there if we go that
route,” Tudor said.

Tudor estimated he would need an additional three
staffers.

“It’s just a big, big, big undertaking,” he said. “There’s
a lot more to it than meets the eye.”

The matter was brought up for discussion only and is not
part of this year’s budget request for his department.

“I’m not saying this is something we necessarily need to
jump into,” Tudor said.

Commissioner Virgil Shockley said he thought it would be
useful to allow people to apply for permits through the county website.
Applying for an electrical or plumbing permit online would be more convenient
than requiring small builders and renovators to go to Snow Hill, he said.

“We take credit cards anyway,” said Shockley.

With building permit numbers down, about one third below
last year’s level year to date, Shockley said he thought Tudor ought to be able
to reassign staff to at least help small project applicants through the
permitting process.

Those constructing an addition, or a swimming pool, unlike
big developers, are not familiar with the process and could use assistance.

“They’re not there to hinder, they’re going to help,” said
Shockley. “I was hoping we could actually try this.”

However, some said it is not the county’s role to lead
people through the process.

“The department does not have people who can handhold the
public and take them through this process,” said Gerry Mason, county
administrator. “You can ask the department to do it, but I think you’re setting
yourself up for failure.”

Commissioner Bob Cowger suggested the department set up an
appointment system, to let small project builders get help from staff.

“If you do it for one person, you have to do it for
everyone,” said Commissioner Louise Gulyas.

Tudor said the number of permits for small projects is a
small percentage of the overall permit requests.

“We
issue thousands, and thousands and thousands of permits a year,” said Tudor. 

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