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Frederick County maintains business continuity

May 12, 2020

Part of the Maryland Capital Region with proximity to both Washington D.C. and Baltimore, Frederick County, Maryland saw a growing need to shift away from its all paper-based operations.

With a diversified local economy, a wide geographic footprint, and a history of processing over 20,000 permits and conducting more than 70,000 inspections per year, Frederick County wanted to make their processes more convenient. Based on an initiative from County Executive Jan Gardner, they began a search for an all-electronic portal that would streamline their workflows and provide a simple, more cost-effective alternative for their customers. Frederick County selected Infor Public Sector (IPS) to address their needs.

Watch the video about Frederick County's planning and permitting software

Scarcely three months after it fully implemented its IPS portal, the system became a cornerstone of its effort to maintain business continuity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I don't think we ever envisioned a scenario where we would be accepting, processing and reviewing permit and planning applications remotely let alone performing virtual inspections all without having to be in our offices or on the job sites,” said Gary Hessong, Deputy Director of Frederick County’s Division of Planning and Permitting. “But we have been able to continue to perform all of the normal work responsibilities while allowing for social distancing, when people were nervous about site visits and we wanted to keep our inspectors safe. The portal helped us maintain full business continuity in an environment where many others have just stopped, or are running at a fraction of their regular capacity.”

Keeping citizens engaged

With a population of approximately 260,000 and the largest land footprint of any county in Maryland, the local government in Frederick manages development applications, permits and inspections for buildings, plumbing, electrical, fire, grading, and stormwater management—in addition to processing distributor licenses, trade licenses, gaming permits, and more. It also coordinates and oversees related processes and approvals for a wide range of external agencies, from utilities to public roads and from the health department to soil conservation.

County officials knew they could boost in-house performance while making the permitting and approval process more efficient for citizens by shifting to an all-electronic platform. Last December, they completed the implementation of the citizen and business portal as well as Infor’s Rhythm for Civics citizen engagement and online publishing tool.

An initial “soft launch” was supposed to be a prelude to a more sustained promotional effort, but applicants began signing up right away, with 1,566 opening accounts in the first three months of operation. The early adopters included most of the licensed contractors who handle permitting for the lion’s share of the county’s building applications.

The portal proved invaluable in March after shelter-at-home orders took effect. Frederick County saw another 546 account holders sign on in March, helping online applications and permitting to play an essential role in sustaining local business activity.

A seamless shift to home offices

Frederick County’s planners shifted their work on electronic plan reviews and permitting to home offices. Under the state’s shelter-at-home declaration, construction was identified as an essential business function. The county was able to continue its services to contractors and citizens without interruption.

The county saw some reductions in permitting activity, with many homeowners postponing small renovations and improvements. But the pace of other types of applications kept up unabated. The virtual team completed as many as 1,095 reviews and 1,300 virtual inspections, each within a single week.

“It’s been a very good transition to a fully electronic process,” said Ashlye Bonomo, the county’s Manager of Permitting Services. “We’ve seen some decrease in building permit applications, but it hasn’t been drastic. For the majority of new construction within the development community, business is not slowing down.”

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