Case Study

Bingham County, ID, Overcomes the Elements with Online Permitting

Bingham County, ID, has a dedicated filing room for building permits and another for planning & zoning files. In these rooms, wall-to-wall double-sided cabinets, organized by address, house decades of paper documents chronicling all of the permitting & licensing exchanges across the County.

Bingham County Planning & Development Director Tiffany Olsen lamented, “it can be pretty complicated to find what you’re looking for.”

She added, “given our climate and our weather, we’ve lost building plans to wind, rain, snow [and] harsh conditions. With our paper filing system, we lose so much time.”

For a County that serves roughly 47,000 constituents, provides inspections for three cities located in its jurisdiction and must serve residents regardless of rain, wind, snow or sunshine, paper filing and manual processes weren’t going to get the job done for Bingham County.

That’s why Olsen and the County turned to a cloud-based solution in OpenGov Citizen Services to eliminate paper permitting, reduce plan review time, cut down on manual processes, and improve the permitting & licensing experience for constituents and staff.

Bingham County, ID, Overcomes the Elements with Online Permitting

Population
47,000

Agency Type
County

Annual Budget
$30 Million

Role
Administration

Region
West

Solution
Citizen Services

Customer Results

Reduced building plan review time by 50% (Six weeks → Three weeks)

Strategically added roles to fully-staff the department

Increased accuracy and speed of application review by limiting constituent application errors

Adopted a fee schedule with an increase of 36% scaled over two years

Eliminated manual zoning review with GIS integration and flag alerts saving 30 hours

Improving Internal Operations

When Olsen joined Bingham County in February 2020, the plan review time was six weeks on both commercial and residential permits. Residents and contractors were not pleased, often “gasping” when they heard the timeline. In response, Olsen decided to shadow various team members to learn more about their roles and responsibilities. That’s when she realized the department was accepting incomplete applications, sometimes allowing applicants to fill in relevant information five or six weeks after their submission. Additionally, an applicant’s name was manually entered more than 10 times throughout the permitting process and there wasn’t an efficient way the team was gathering zoning information. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic “almost paralyzed” operations a month into Olsen’s tenure due to the County’s reliance on paper-based processes and in-person meetings.

The convergence of her research and the pandemic signaled that new software was necessary.

“When the CARES Act funding was announced, it took me a little while to realize that these funds could be used for software, enabling our department to limit face-to-face interaction and efficiently work from home.”
Tiffany Olsen, Planning & Development Director, Bingham County, ID

Once she completed her research, including a thorough review of various software platforms, she presented her findings to the Board of Commissioners. Olsen and her team got pre-approval for CARES Act funding and completed the purchasing process with OpenGov in about a month.

The most important thing for Olsen was cutting down plan review time. With OpenGov Citizen Services, she now had the digital tools to accomplish that goal with an online service portal for applicants. OpenGov proved invaluable to mitigating issues associated with incomplete applications and inefficient zoning reviews.

“Having those required fields, instituting a mandatory checklist, these have been really beneficial features.”
Tiffany Olsen, Planning & Development Director, Bingham County, ID

Additionally, OpenGov has a module for GIS parcel integration. An applicant can go out, find their parcel and feed all of that information back to the County, including zoning district, area size, flood, plain and parcel number.

Olsen and her team have issued 123 building permits since launching in January. By eliminating zoning review via OpenGov’s advanced GIS mapping with Esri ArcGIS, the team has saved just over 30 hours of work. In Bingham County, new construction is up 41% in the first quarter compared to last year, following trends across the midwest.

With these improvements and others, the team whittled down its plan review time by 50% cutting it to three weeks. Olsen is confident that as the team continues its work with OpenGov, they’ll reduce that plan review time even more.

Bingham County, ID, Overcomes the Elements with Online Permitting

Benefits of Digital Transformation

To administer this digital transformation, Olsen recognized the importance of partnering with teammates who wanted to champion change. She received approval to expand her team, adding two different roles: a colleague to help execute on digital innovation and the conversion to OpenGov, and an additional building inspector. Now, with her team of six, the department is fully staffed.

Olsen and her team aim to cover 80% of the department budget via revenue generated from building fees. She learned that Bingham County hadn’t increased its fees in more than 22 years, so Olsen collaborated with an online planning group and surveyed fees countywide.

From her findings, she concluded that the County was charging 58% less in fees compared to the rest of the state. Armed with this information, Olsen prepared an eight-page memo with several exhibits and invited prominent contractors, engineers and surveyors to meet with the Board of Commissioners. She proposed a fee schedule with an increase of 36% scaled over two years remaining conscious of sustaining growth.

The fee schedule was well received, in large part, because of the increased service level the County was providing builders, a direct result of adopting OpenGov.

“Contractors are saving so much time. Rather than coming to the courthouse, waiting through security and going back home, they have everything at their fingertips. It’s been important to them, and they voiced their support.”
Tiffany Olsen, Planning & Development Director, Bingham County, ID

Shortly into 2021, Bingham County is on track to eclipse the number of new building permits the County issued in 2020, a great sign of growth and improved operational efficiency.

About Bingham County, ID

Bingham County, located in eastern Idaho, was established on January 13, 1885, with its county seat at Blackfoot. There are also many other communities throughout the Bingham County area, including Shelley, Firth, Groveland, Moreland, Aberdeen, Pingree and Atomic City. The County is one of the largest producers of potatoes in the world and is home to many agricultural businesses. Bingham County offers a stable and diversified economy. It also has several parks and community attractions, excellent schools and quiet residential areas.

Solution

OpenGov Citizen Services

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