Contracting Out The Permit Process
Dear Management Doctor:
Do you know of any city or county that has virtually farmed its permit processing out to private contractors? That question has come up here in Kent. I know many jurisdictions will contract out during peak periods they consider to be temporary, but I'm wondering if any have farmed most or all of it out.
Hope you're doing well.
Fred N. Satterstrom, AICP
I have made a few phone calls on this and so far haven't been able to come up with a solid example. I am hoping our Emailers will give us the answer. However, here are a few thoughts:
The Management Doctor
Thanks for your follow up on my question. I am very impressed. And, the information gathered is helpful as well. Seems like you've had some personal experience with the scenario proposed.
Best wishes to you!
Fred N. Satterstrom, AICP
There are indeed a number of new (and a few older) cities in the Atlanta region that have contracted out their permitting process and indeed their entire planning department function.
The best example for Fred may be the City of Chamblee, Georgia which employs a Development Director, but contracts out it permitting/review process on a 5-year contract.
CH2MHill holds contracts with the recently incorporated cities of Sandy Springs and John’s Creek, GA (both north of Atlanta). CH2MHill also held a similar contract with the recently incorporate city of Milton, GA.
Georgia’s newest city, Dunwoody, GA developed three RFP’s and have three different firms executing government services for Planning, Public Works, and HR/Finance.
Eric S Bosman, AICP
Last year at the City of Gulfport, Florida, our City Council looked at completely disbanding our Building Department. The City investigated and received proposals from independent firms and contractors, the City of St. Petersburg, and Pinellas County for the plans review, permitting, and inspections. Pinellas County was the most cost effective for taking over all duties that our Building Division performs.
The County’s Building Department can perform site plan review, building plans review, inspections, and issue all required permits. The City used the County for building plans review, inspections, and the issuance of building permits. As it turned out, the County could not and did not provide the quality of service that the City’s Building Division provides. All building plans had to be submitted in the County’s Building Department in Clearwater, nearly 20 miles away and a 45 minute drive each way. County Building Inspectors inspected all applicable inspections. If any problem occurred, a “Stop Work” order was issued, plus a re-inspection fee was charged. The citizens and contractors spoke out. The City’s Building Division works with the contractors and home owners to solve problems and plan alterations without “Stop Work Orders” and re-inspection fees. Council decided to retain the Building Division.
If the City were to contract out Building Division services, Pinellas County is the most cost efficient outside of having its own Building Division. The City has its Planning and Zoning Division consisting of three planners (including the Department Head), who performs all Comp Plan and Zoning Code related tasks.
Hope this helps your reader!
The City of Petaluma has done this. Here's an article about it:
Erik J. Pearson, AICP
The City of Northglenn, Colorado just recently farmed out their building permit function to a private consulting firm.
Check with Gallatin County Montana. I heard they did this when their staff was working on long-range planning.
I believe the Town of Orange Park, Florida (located just south of Jacksonville) contracts out their planning work. The little towns of Tavares and Mascotte, FL do as well - at least they did in 2004.
You might look into the City of Sandy Springs, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta which was created in 2005 and overnight had a city population of about 85,000 of formerly unincorporated residents. USA Today a few years ago ran a story about how all the public works and planning services for the city are contracted with a private firm for something like $45 million annually. The number of actual city employment was quite small. I don't know if that's still the case.
Robert Myers, AICP
Many cities allow for "Third Party Review."
In the City and County of Honolulu, once certified by our department, private companies/individuals contract directly with building permit applicants to process applications, certifying to us that the plans meet our codes. Each Third Party entity must show competency in the applicable codes. So far, no company has been certified to review plans for zoning conformance. But sign-offs on building code, plumbing code, etc, is commonplace.
This works because private parties are charging on top of the building permit fee, and the cost can be significant, but it does speed up the review time. Staff (and union) hasn't objected because we are overwhelmed with backlogged applications in a healthy economy, so it doesn't threaten city staffing. In a down economy, tendency is not to use Third Party Review.
The applicant gets a building permit from us, and we still perform inspections out in the field.
Kathy K. Sokugawa
Regarding farming out the permitting process: CH2MHill does this type of work for Johns Creek, GA and for the city of Milton, GA.