The Tech that Empowered 2 Communities to Adapt to Covid-19

With many communities still reeling from the unprecedented fallout caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, officials from the Town of North Andover, MA and the City of Wooster, OH joined us live on May 6 to share how their local governments were able to adapt to remote operations, maintain resident services, and generate critical revenue from those services—even when city hall was forced to temporarily close due to stay at home orders.

Read on for key insights:

 

Insight 1: Good Cloud Technology Is Continuity Planning

“Not all clouds are created equal, but good cloud technology is continuity planning,” explains Chris McClure, the Director of Information Technology in the Town of North Andover, MA.

Investing in good cloud technology before a crisis hits enables local governments to normalize operations even in a situation that requires virtual telecommuting from a distributed workforce. Because cloud technology contributes to a more intuitive user experience—meaning the way that people use the software, even beginners, is simple to understand—it’s an investment worth making outside of a crisis scenario to ultimately save city staff hours of time, effort, and manual work.

“One of the concerns during this, with town leaders and during budget meetings,” shares Chris, “Is what is the financial impact going to be for towns as we look at this?”

Because OpenGov PLC provides a front-end public portal, North Andover was able to continue accepting online applications for permits, licenses, and inspectional requests with a modern interface that allows residents to pay for these services online with a credit card.

 

Easy online payments allow residents to use a credit card to pay for permit and license
applications, which keeps critical revenue flowing to local governments during Covid-19.

Not only was the town able to preserve revenue from permitting, licensing, and inspectional services, even when they were forced into a remote working scenario, but they also saw revenue increases as more residents applied and paid for town services related to permitting during the stay at home period. This outcome is incredibly powerful.

It comes at a time when many governments, including North Andover, are in the process of reassessing their annual budgets for the upcoming year to account for various scenarios that try to estimate the total fiscal impact of Covid-19. Enabling development-related services to take place online offers a consistent means of generating revenue when other key areas—such as sales or income tax—may take a hit. Development can continue with online payments and digital permit and license workflows, which greatly reduces the financial uncertainty other paper-based communities face, now that their typical processes can no longer continue in person.

 

“North Andover was actually able to maintain, and in some cases, have small increases in the permitting fees that we were collecting [online], without having to do any additional changes.”
Chris McClure, Director of IT, Town of North Andover, MA

 

Normalizing operations even during crises highlights the power of investing in modern, cloud-based technology.

 

Insight 2: Remove Impediments to Construction to Keep Revenue Flowing

The City of Wooster, OH had established ambitious community development goals well before the Covid-19 pandemic began. Tim Monea, Chief Building Official who has served Wooster for over 20 years, recognized early on the connection between simplified permitting processes and increased community development opportunities.

 

“Dollars will flow to a community if they have a simple permitting process, if they have an efficient way of interacting with contractors and developers, rather than a community that makes things too difficult.”
Tim Monea, Chief Building Official, City of Wooster, OH

 

Thinking of revenue from the perspective of an enterprise fund, construction is “one of the most vital segments of the economy,” according to Tim. Therefore, Wooster’s budget relies on the building department to generate a certain percentage of revenue from services related to construction and development.

Once a building project begins, the city must issue anywhere from 10-12 permits per building before a site is completed. Because these permits are issued at different checkpoints throughout the project progression, the government cannot stop their work to inspect, consult, ensure safety standards, and issue permits without damaging their own economy.

 

OpenGov PLC’s platform enables a digital permitting approvals process with extra visibility,
which Wooster, OH uses to issue anywhere from 10-12 construction permits per project.

 

“[Cloud-based permitting] doesn’t increase our budget and revenue directly right at the beginning, but over time it leads to better development, with more people wanting to be there.”
Tim Monea, Chief Building Official, City of Wooster, OH

 

That’s why in 2017, Monea and his team decided to make applying for a building permit as easy as possible for residents and staff members. Through OpenGov PLC, all construction-related business with the city, such as permits, inspections, special licensing, and code enforcement, go through a single customer-facing online portal. Anyone requiring any kind of city permit simply logs in to Wooster’s portal, completes an online form, and pays with a credit card—no visit to city hall required.

 

Homeowners, builders, contractors, and developers can complete their
required forms and pay online in Wooster’s custom citizen portal.

With three years of experience connecting with staff members online, residents living in the City of Wooster simply continued applying for permitting, licensing, and inspections requests online from home when Covid-19 required city hall to stop in-person engagements.

 

“When city hall closed and this pandemic took hold, we looked very smart and this really had little effect. We locked City Hall, but we didn’t miss a beat with providing our customers with services.”
Tim Monea, Chief Building Official, City of Wooster, OH

 

“The biggest question we received was ‘Will you still be doing inspections?’” says Tim. “We won’t go inside occupied homes, we will go inside new residential (unoccupied) properties. What we’ve been able to do is use Zoom a lot for virtual inspections.”

 

The City of Wooster quickly adapted their inspections process to offer virtual inspections
over Zoom when possible, which residents could conveniently schedule online.

Tim and his team were able to create a Zoom integration within OpenGov PLC where a Wooster resident requests an inspection online as they normally would, and through the dialogue box the inspector sends a Zoom link to the person who is physically at the job site at the confirmed time. Wooster inspectors are all using tablets with cellular capabilities, so the adapted system is working well so far.

Because residents had so many questions regarding the new processes, Wooster staff even created a dedicated section on their public portal to provide an FAQ related to virtual inspections.

 

The City of Wooster, OH adapted their customer-facing portal immediately, adding a new section
that would address common inspection-related questions to keep residents informed.

 

Insight 3: Workflow Automation Allows for Flexibility in Real-Time Crisis Response

Two years prior to Covid-19, the Town of North Andover, MA staff already had experienced a local crisis when an over-pressurized gas system caused a massive explosion impacting North Andover and two neighboring towns.

As a result, all three communities received state funding designed to mitigate the economic fallout from the disaster. The Town created a “shop local campaign” to encourage people to shop at local businesses impacted by the disruption but had to track all of the receipts detailing where people had shopped in order to issue a gift certificate.

“In looking at all of our different systems, OpenGov PLC was the best fit to manage that pretty ad- hoc, complicated process,” says Chris. “We processed thousands of gift certificates and in this case, the “permit” that was issued was actually a gift certificate that was able to calculate the various stores and amounts people shopped at.”

 

“OpenGov PLC is considered to be a permitting application, but really in North Andover, MA we see it as a workflow application that is able to do permits. There are a lot of places where we might need to do electronic signatures or complicated workflows where people are signing off and reviewing things.”
Chris McClure, Director of IT, Town of North Andover, MA

 

Tim agrees that the flexibility of the platform has found numerous, creative uses across different departments in Wooster, OH.

 

“We use [OpenGov PLC] for everything from engineering to community development. It’s adaptable to any process where you previously had a paper process.”
Tim Monea, Chief Building Official, Wooster, OH

 

Learn More: 3 Ways to Maintain Resident Services and Economic Development During a Crisis

Many government leaders are now tasked with bringing their internal operations and resident services online in order to continue generating revenue in crisis. In our latest eBook, you’ll learn about the modern features in cloud-based permitting software that not only make your job easier, but also keep your community in full operation in crisis.

 

Download The eBook

 

Ready to talk? Request more info below:

 

Category: Citizen Services for Permitting & Licensing

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