Collier County ready to begin testing electronic permitting system

Months before it makes the system available to the public, Collier County is ready to give industry insiders and volunteers a sneak peek at its new electronic permitting system.

"We want to know, does it do what you need," said Jim von Rinteln, a plans reviewer with the Collier County Growth Management Division, which is overseeing the project. "We want people who will use it to see it and give us feedback."

Tatiana Gust, the manager for plan review and inspections for the county, said the idea was to make the system like Turbo Tax, the popular income tax preparation software.

"It's foolproof," she said. "You fill out the form and if something is wrong or missing, it lets you know."

The goal, county officials said, is to make it easy enough for novices, and fast enough so professionals won't get frustrated.

The new program, said project manager Cynthia Muckel, will allow those submitting plans to either compare what's been altered side by side or with the plans overlaid on one another.

"It will allow you to really quickly identify what changes need to be made to the plans," she said. "It will allow everyone to very clearly communicate what the issues are and will allow the applicant to continue working on the plans with their general contractor."

If those submitting plans make changes during the process, von Rinteln said, those changes will be noted in the plans.

"It will immediately flag something that changes so it is easier for the reviewer as well," he said.

Electronic permitting also allowed the county to streamline some of its permitting procedures, said von Rinteln.

"We request a lot of notarized signatures on things that are unnecessary," he said. "We're trying to get rid of as much of that as we can. There are a lot of bureaucratic things we are trying to eliminate."

It will also be less expensive. When the plans are complete, filing electronically will require two copies be submitted for commercial buildings, down from five. For residential permits, the county will require one copy down from three.

Muckel said the county is "90 percent" done with the customizing the program. It will move into the testing phase before it is released to the public.

"We still need to fine-tune the details," said Gust, adding that county employees have also been asked to give feedback.

Local architect Brad Schiffer said he supports electronic permitting. He serves on a state task force with members from the Florida Engineering Society and the American Institute of Architects that hopes to encourage more electronic filing from county building departments.

"It opens up an interface with the building department that is digital where the building department and design professionals can discuss things," he said. "It will speed it up and will be an easier tool for them to review."

Schiffer, who advised the county on some of the software issues, said currently he has to use permit processors to submit his plans. With the new software he will be able to submit them from his studio.

"We'll have great archived drawings, too," he said. "Now, paper drawings are scanned and they make poor copies."

Von Rinteln said the county knows electronic permitting will be the alternative at first, and that's OK.

"We need to bring it on slowly at first," he said.

The county plans extensive training for employees and users who want to learn the system. In addition, the county is looking for industry professionals and volunteers to test the software in the coming months and give feedback to improve the system before it goes live sometime in early 2013.

"This will help everyone — us, the consumer," von Rinteln said. "We will have more accuracy and kill fewer trees."

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