Case Study

Pioneering Modern ePermitting in Lakeville, MA

About the Town of Lakeville, MA

Situated less than an hour south of Boston, the Town Lakeville, MA has existed since 1853, when it became its own distinct community separate from neighboring Middleborough. Home to more than 10,000 people, the community got its name from the six surrounding ponds that occupy over 4,000 acres of land and support the larger lake ecosystem within the region.

 

Challenges

Streamlining paper-based permitting systems
Creating process cohesion across Towns for contractors and developers
Municipal accountability during the review process

 

Solution

Finding Town-specific uses for OpenGov’s Citizen Services platform that enabled online submissions, review, and inspections for the Building Department

Population
10659

Agency Type
Town

Annual Budget
$30 Million

Role
Community Development
IT

Region
Northeast

Solution
Citizen Services

Customer Results

Paper to paperless permitting in 9 months

Faster application processing times

Able to enforce a 48-hour inspection response to residents

Found 4 new uses for the software beyond building permits

As a fourth-generation Lakeville, MA Town employee, Nathan Darling is more than committed to his community. His great-grandmother actually wrote the Town history in the 1950s, and Darling followed in his grandfather’s footsteps when he took over the role of Lakeville’s Building Commissioner in 2013. His family’s commitment to the Lakeville community set the foundation for his unwavering dedication to keeping his hometown safe—first, working for the Fire Department for 15 years, and then as the Assistant Building Inspector for five years, before he took on his current leadership position within Lakeville’s Building Department as the Building Commissioner and Director of Inspectional Services.

He now oversees a staff of twenty people and manages diverse operations around plan reviews, inspections, tax assessments, permitting, conservation, public health, and safety. With so much municipal experience and a unique knowledge of local constituent needs, Darling was perfectly poised to undertake a critical initiative—modernizing Lakeville’s building permits approval process with OpenGov Citizen Services.

The Drive to Improve the Town and the Region

In 2013, Lakeville announced an initiative to become the most business-friendly city in Massachusetts. This announcement kicked off Darling’s search for a better permitting solution, and one of his evaluation criteria was to ensure contractors would be able to easily apply and be approved for commercial and residential projects. Unlike residents, contractors and developers often do business in many jurisdictions across the region, making it difficult to navigate the differences in each community’s building permit regulations and processes.

“It’s important to me to have one program from a contractor perspective. If contractors think one community is ‘easier’ to build in than the neighboring Towns, they’re going to start picking projects only in that community. That impacts the whole region and takes away the bigger regional improvement opportunities.”

Nathan soon realized the merits of getting neighboring communities involved with Citizen Services too. He states simply that “it’s less duplication of efforts,” to get every Town on the same system without requiring each department to reinvent the wheel when in many cases they are only a few miles down the road. He’s now working to get the neighboring communities of Fairhaven, Raynham, Freetown, Carver, and Acushnet on board because he believes so strongly in the benefits he’s seen within his own Building Department.

“My drive to get nearby communities to use OpenGov too, comes from the fact that it’s less duplication of efforts. I’ve already been through the process, I know this is the best solution out there, so why should another Department Head start the search from scratch when we’re already seeing results?”

“If OpenGov is successful, the Town is successful. Our Town wants to become a business partner for contractors and homeowners making improvements.”

Since Lakeville began using OpenGov Citizen Services full-time in March 2019, Nathan has seen the biggest benefits in increasing internal visibility and accountability. With strict timeframes on responding to constituents’ inspections (they are required to be completed within 48 hours), in-platform reporting also helps Nathan report on his teams’ performance and intervene when there is a problem or backlog.

 

“When you have a platform this easy, everyone is treated the same way. There are no favorites, no bending the rules for anybody. If you are late to an inspection, it’s time stamped. Everybody follows the same review process because it’s step-by-step in the platform. You can see exactly who is doing what, and how long it is taking.”
Nathan Darling, Building Commissioner, Director of Inspectional Services, Town of Lakeville, MA

 

 

The Power of a Common Sense Platform

“I’m a common sense guy,” says Darling. “So are these contractors I’m working with, we’re all common sense people.” That’s why selecting a software that felt intuitive to brand new users, especially those less comfortable with using technology, was especially important in the transition to modernizing the permitting processes in the Town of Lakeville.

 

“OpenGov’s Permitting, Licensing, and Code Enforcement platform is user-friendly. When you look at the applications, you think, ‘wow this is easy,’ especially when everything else out there is linear and looks like accounting software.”
Nathan Darling, Building Commissioner, Director of Inspectional Services, Town of Lakeville, MA

 

With every Citizen Services deployment, OpenGov provides new customers with hands-on training to ensure all municipal employees understand how to get the most out of the platform. Liz Usherwood served as the Town of Lakeville’s project manager throughout the implementation process, which took only nine months from start to finish.

“Most of our team, myself included, had spent 20-25 years in the field, using our hands, mostly mechanics by trade. So computers and new technology can be intimidating. But Liz was like a baby blanket during the modernization process—she is warm and fuzzy, helpful and well-spoken.”

 

“Our Implementation Manager was like a baby blanket during the modernization process—warm and fuzzy, helpful and well-spoken.”
Nathan Darling, Building Commissioner, Director of Inspectional Services, Town of Lakeville, MA

 

While it was a big step to change entrenched processes, Darling insists that patient, persistent commitment to the bigger mission helped keep Lakeville employees motivated to persevere. He takes the same approach with constituent training too, so they feel comfortable applying for building permits online.

“This one can be tricky because we do have some people that are just stuck in the groove of paper. Our employees take phone calls from contractors who like the old way better. But I am a firm believer in fairness, so no matter who you are, and which system you prefer, you will be treated the same.”

 

The customized permitting portal allows residents, contractors, and homeowners in the
Town of Lakeville, MA to easily view, apply, and pay for permits and licenses online.

 

Lakeville’s clerical staff take as much time as they need to introduce constituents to the Citizen Services online portal when they walk into Town Hall. If they aren’t comfortable with computers, they are given a paper and pencil that is then scanned into digital format to get a number assigned in the approvals workflow. Either way, constituents feel the platform benefits in faster application processing times, more convenient inspection services, and an online visual progress queue to know exactly where they are in the approvals process in real-time.

 

 

True Partnership with User-Informed Design

The other element that has smoothed the transition from paper to cloud-based permitting in Lakeville, MA is the online support and dedicated customer services that OpenGov provides each partner community. Darling explains that “it’s very much constant contact—if we send something to technical support, we’ll get a response in about 5-10 minutes.” He’s also a frequent source of feedback, sharing ideas with OpenGov’s product team around platform improvements that could continue enhancing usability.

 

“If I ask ‘How do we make this happen?’, they listen. But most of the time, I don’t even have to ask. They’ve given me the tools to make this application the best it can be.”
Nathan Darling, Building Commissioner, Director of Inspectional Services, Town of Lakeville, MA

 

He has a pending product request in for icon enhancement and has suggested to the product team that they color-code these to associate red with emergency, blue with the board of health, and green with conservation. Darling’s favorite platform feature that already exists is the ability to search, filter, attach, and export electronic records. “OpenGov is the best at how they organize data. There have been major improvements in the last few years around exporting and searchability–and there is always room for more, which they believe too.”

Darling’s vision moving forward with OpenGov is to be a mentor for other communities so they can learn by example the most efficient way to review a building plan application within the platform. He already sees additional ways he can use Citizen Services in the future, including GIS integrations that enhance public safety and emergency preparedness in the event of a natural disaster. He wants to create a comprehensive list of constituents who are aging, have oxygen dependency, or other medical problems, or need services like meals on wheels. He envisions using OpenGov’s optimized inspections route feature to assist municipal staff in conducting welfare checks, delivering items from local food pantries, and arranging transportation.

 

“It’s not just permitting and licensing, OpenGov has so much more to offer.”
Nathan Darling, Building Commissioner, Director of Inspectional Services, Town of Lakeville, MA

 

The advanced inspections features in OpenGov Citizen Services allow inspectors to easily create
the most efficient route for their daily on-site visits, increasing efficiency automatically.

 

While there are still real barriers to modernization–for example, not every Massachusetts community is allowed to forgo paper—Nathan Darling is the living example that patience, commitment, and creative thinking are the determining factors in the government modernization process. “When you listen to me talk about this, you can just tell I’m excited,” Darling shares. “And it’s not just ‘open a christmas gift’ excitement either, this is perpetual excitement—we’ve been working on this for over a year and we are seeing great progress in customer service, accountability and reporting.”

 

“OpenGov has opened my eyes to a much larger picture than just what my department does. It can build bridges between Town Government, our residents and all other users alike, and I look forward to the future that Lakeville’s relationship with OpenGov will reveal.”
Nathan Darling, Building Commissioner, Director of Inspectional Services, Town of Lakeville, MA

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