Case Study

Town of Ithaca, NY Meets Growth Needs with Digital Permitting

The Town of Ithaca, NY, encircles the City of Ithaca and is home to Cornell University’s College of Veterinarian Medicine and Agriculture and Life Sciences. With a high rate of PhDs per capita, Ithaca is known as the “smartest city in America” and a desirable place to live. 

Growth in the City has pushed into the Town’s jurisdiction, resulting in a housing crisis as demand outpaces supply.  Residents in the Town support projects like the Chain Works District, which turn abandoned industrial infrastructure into “live, work, play muti-districts.” 

Marty Moseley, Director of Code Enforcement and Zoning at the Town of Ithaca and President of the New York State Building Officials Conference (NYBSOC), led the Town in digitizing permitting to keep up with demand for building permits for these projects. While this was no easy task, Marty saw this challenge as an opportunity to reframe outdated processes. 

“One of the benefits of transitioning to any new system, especially OpenGov, is that we, as a municipality… have to look at our processes. And the processes we go to may not be exactly the same as what we are used to, but they could be better if we give it a chance,” – Marty Moseley, Director of Code Enforcement and Zoning

Customer Results

4 Departments Live With OpenGov Permitting & Licensing

35% Increase in Front Efficiency

Instant Permit & Zoning Approvals

Initially, Moseley sought out OpenGov as a solution for short-term rental registrations. When the Town established a local law requiring all Short Term Rentals to be registered and issued an operating permit, Moseley searched for a system to implement this program and ensure compliance. 

Moseley knew the answer lay in new software but didn’t know where to begin. For advice, he called up Lexington, MA, and Cambridge, MA; thriving neighboring communities that had already established a short-term rental process. 

Immediately, the municipalities recommended OpenGov. “They told me they partnered with OpenGov, and it’s been great,” said Moseley, “So what OpenGov was and how it worked. And I started looking into the software.”

Coincidentally, while looking specifically for short-term rental software, Moseley was informed that the Town’s legacy system for all permit and record types was sunsetting. This closure acted as an opportunity for the Town to revise its entire process for not just short-term rental but all permit and record types, said Moseley.

He interviewed at least ten other software vendors to find the very best solution for the Town. He was looking for an interactive tool to increase communication between applicants and the building department, as well as internal collaboration between his municipal departments. He also wanted a way for applicants to submit permits and payments entirely online. 

The Town, based on recommendations from all Department Directors decided that OpenGov was the best and most holistic solution to meet these different demands: “We realized it could do a plethora of items and answer solutions for multiple departments.” 

Quickly after implementation, Moseley and his staff noticed many benefits of OpenGov. This case study outlines these advantages and explains how modernization like this will lead to development efficiencies across NY. 

Decreasing Key Strokes and Increasing Efficiency 

The Town’s legacy enterprise system was a combination of paper applications and manual data entry into a backend system. This gravely slowed development as Town staff had to manually enter data and then submit it to a code official for review. 

Not to mention, inspectors rarely had access to digital drawings or specifications in the field unless they manually entered them into a Google Drive account. In addition, code officials and inspectors had to share inspection results with their customers via email or as a printed copy. 

“[With OpenGov] There’s been a significant increase in efficiency from our front office because there are less keystrokes and less of a workload on that aspect.”

Now that inspections are conducted in OpenGov rather than Google Drive, the Town forgoes the extra step of emailing results and amendments to contractors. In addition, contractors can add up to 10 guests to their OpenGov account, which saves contractors this same step of sharing documents with other stakeholders. Town staff, contractors, and applicants can see updates wherever they are and in real-time, said Moseley. 

Moseley also expects to see time savings when issuing renewal campaigns. Previously, Town staff had to email or hard-mail traditional letters. With the automated renewal campaigns in OpenGov, applicants will automatically be alerted when inspections are due for operating permits and fire safety inspections. 

Early Success Brings Staff on Board 

While it is normal for certain staff members to be somewhat resistant to a change in processes, Moseley’s staff quickly hopped on the OpenGov bandwagon. 

“They find it very easy to use. They are extremely happy,” said Moseley. “The other individuals that maybe were lagging behind originally are coming along and finding it to be more helpful and useful than our previous system.” 

Multiple departments outside the building department can review and comment on the application for large projects, like when a zoning application comes in with a variance request. With OpenGov, this communication is streamlined and conducted entirely in the system. 

“The turnaround time is much quicker… [compared] to emails we used to send independently. Sometimes your emails would get lost but in the OpenGov system… You can go to your explore tab and keep an eye on your tasks you’re supposed to be reviewing. 

Quicker Turnarounds and Happier Applicants Across the State 

One of the most significant advantages Moseley has seen since implementing OpenGov is greater external communication. For example, with the new system, contractors can get inspection results “instantaneously.”

“[OpenGov] put us on a path to increase communication levels. People are satisfied with that. They can see what the status of their permits are. And it’s in multiple departments, not just code enforcement… planning and engineering and highway are a key component,” said Moseley.

After witnessing the Town’s success, the City of Ithaca and the Town of Lansing have also signed on with OpenGov. 

Moseley expects this to benefit not only government staff but also New York residents. “Contractors and applicants will find that to be helpful… they’re not going to have to create another user account, and they’ll just be able to cross right over into their systems,” he said. 

This is especially advantageous to Cornell University, as its campus lies in both the Town and the City of Ithaca. 

“The consistency component of that will be… immeasurable. To have two municipalities where your main campus is using the same system… will be extremely beneficial to them,” said Moseley. 

While this consistency will speed up the construction of new buildings across campus, it will also benefit existing buildings. For example, fire safety inspections and annual operating permits will also be done in OpenGov, said Moseley. 

What’s Next for the Town? 

One of Moseley’s goals for the new year is for all his staff to be more proficient in OpenGov. To achieve this goal, Moseley and his front-of-office team, which he says was crucial in implementing the software, will conduct weekly trainings for new users and other departments. “We went live in July, and it’s a transitional time within the first year of any implementation… I’d like to work on an any additional items that may be tripping points for us and improve our workflow and status internally. That’s really our focus at this point in time,” said Moseley. 

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