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DCD streamlines permit process, clears backlog

The Kitsap County Department of Community Development (DCD) has changed its permitting process and cleared a backlog of 125 requests out of its system over the past two months, according to DCD Director Larry Keeton.

“We reviewed our business practices,” Keeton said. “And we found we were not getting to our permits in a timely manner, so we took a number of those that had been around for some time and cleared them up.”

Most of the permits were for site approval activity. Keeton said many applicants had forgotten about the requests or decided not to implement them. A small percentage of applicants completed the action without permission to do so, but in those cases “their neighbors call us up and tell us about it.”

Keeton said the first step in increasing efficiency was to emulate the “Open Line” concept used by the Department of Public Works. Here, all calls are answered by a person rather than a taped message, who is equipped to answer basic questions.

DCD has one incoming line, (360) 337-7181, which draws about 6,400 calls a month. It is answered by one of four people who work from a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) that include the most common queries.

Keeton said the first FAQ document was three pages, but has now grown to more than 30.

Keeton also has streamlined the way planners interact with the public. In past months planners have answered the phones, which takes them away from their own jobs.

Planners’ public contact is now by appointment only, which Keeton said better serves both the department and the public.

In the month following these actions, Keeton said permit efficiency increased 28 percent. He said the changes didn’t cost the county any additional funds.

“After I started this job in November, I met with every employee,” Keeton said. “They said they wanted accountability and they wanted resources. The way it was done the planners couldn’t do their jobs because they were asked to do things that were ‘just as important.’ So we changed the process and took away all of the reasons why the work couldn’t be done.”

Part of this change involved clarifying the rules. Applicants can no longer submit requests repeatedly. If they don’t pass muster after two inspections they must start over.

“It was going back and forth so many times that some developers were saying ‘Let the county design the project,’” Keeton said. “Now, if they don’t get it right the second time, they will have to pay another fee. This wasn’t fair to the people who were doing it right.

“A lot of permits were delayed because the development community were giving us garbage,” he said. “Now we are telling people if they can deliver the applications a certain way we will get them the permit in a timely manner.”

Keeton said he has already received positive feedback about the new system and commissioner inquiries about delayed projects have decreased considerably.

Keeton was hired in November 2006 after a ten-month search. He previously served as chief of staff in Lewis County.

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