MAT-SU BOROUGH–Before a new Permit Center was created at the Borough administration building in Palmer, a person who wanted to build a house would have to check in with the Public Works Department on the first floor for a driveway permit then walk up the stairs to Code Compliance on the second floor for a mandatory land use permit, often visiting each place twice. Given the 600-plus land use permits and the 600 driveway permits issued each year, that’s a lot of stair time.
Not any more. As the new Permit Center takes shape at the Borough, residents and business owners need only go to one counter where all their planning and development type permits can be handled. For the mandatory land use permit alone, the change has cut the processing time to less than half and so far has saved about $60 per permit in labor cost. Applicants were receiving their permit in 10 days, now are receiving it in about five days. The savings in time and money from the streamlining will spread to other permits over the next months.
“The Permit Center was put together with the customer in mind and as our first priority,” said Borough Planning Director Christine Nelson. “We believe this will show in our delivery of services.”
The physical changes in the building include: a more efficient counter installed out of the hallway traffic, and a lower desk available for longer consultations, which is also wheelchair accessible. In the tight office space of the Dorothy Swanda Jones building, some employees have given up office space to make it happen. Nelson gave up her large office with windows.
The new counter will be primarily run by two permit technicians, who are cross-trained to be able to handle multiple types of permits. Their arrival at the counter itself is an efficient use of labor. Vickie Lee Fenster and Michelle Croswhite previously worked in platting. Given that the number of plats in the Borough are down, their skills were redirected to this newly focused work.
The Permit Center will process several dozen different types of permits and platting actions, including the mandatory land use permit, driveway permits, permits for utilities, administrative planning permits, platting actions, liquor license renewal, and conditional use permits. Residents will also be able to meet with code compliance officers. Animal licenses are obtained at Animal Care Shelter and business licenses are handled at the help desk on the first floor foyer of the Borough building.
So far 363 Mandatory Land Use permits have been issued this year, more than 100 over the same time last year. Mandatory Land Use permits are not building permits. The Land Use permit shows how the structure is situated on the land and is for buildings greater than 480 square feet, about a two-car garage.
The Permit Center brings another benefit, less handling of permits by code compliance officers, which allows the three officers and one chief to be in the field more, working on code violations. This frees up officers to work on developing new and creative ways to address chronic situations of junk and trash.
“We can work on new ways to achieve voluntary compliance. Some in violation are elderly. Others don’t have the resources to clean up. We might partner with volunteer groups, service agencies or the Boy Scouts, to find a way to get clean-up outside the typical written citation,” said Nelson, who came on as Planning Director last October.
Another intended benefit: the Permit Center will be able to see leading indicators of economic activity: permits, plats, changes to recorded property, and developer inquiries all coming to one place. Just a year ago assessors had to drive around to discover new buildings. Now the permit center and the assessor’s office are working together to be more efficient in operations.
The permit center is requesting feedback on how people view their experience at the counter by asking them to fill out a short survey.
Photo at new counter: pictured front Amy Hina-Office Assistant, Michelle Croswhite-Permit Technician, Vickie Lee Fenster-Permit Technician, Andy Dean-Right-of-Way Coordinator. Photo by Patty Sullivan/MSB