Permit site tops usage goal

In the year since a regional e-government alliance in King County, Wash., launched a collaborative permit portal, online usage of the application has exceeded the group's expectations.

Rich Conrad, city manager for Mercer Island, Wash., one of the 13 participating municipalities in the alliance, said the group hoped online usage would account for about 30 percent of all the counter permits issued. But usage exceeded that target and in some cases neared 50 percent.

Contractors and property owners performing work within participating municipalities can apply for mechanical, low voltage, plumbing, and electrical permits online using the portal, which was launched August 2002. Contractors must register with the site so the alliance can verify they have the required state and local business licenses.

The system accesses the back-end systems for each municipality, verifies credit card transactions, sends payments to the jurisdictions and provides permits in a PDF format to contractors, who can print the document and post them at the work site.

Cities retain their permit fee structure and identity, said Pete Rose, city manager for Woodinville, Wash., another municipal participant. The portal lets contractors fill an shopping cart with permits from different cities at the same time, Rose seaid. The site also provides construction tip sheets, inspection checklists, links to resources and upcoming events and seminars.

At this point only eight of the 13 alliance members are participating in the permit portal application.

Conrad, who is co-chairman of the alliance, said the permit portal is the first of a number of transactional capabilities planned for the alliance. Although there is a listserv function, he said the alliance envisions an economic development module so users can look for the best retail spaces, geographic information systems applications and ways to pay for utility bills and parking tickets. He said the alliance also wants users to use the module to apply for jobs, respond to requests for bids and proposals, file complaints and register for business licenses.

Within the next 18 months, the alliance will develop a joint parks and recreation gateway to reserve and search for parks facilities within member cities, Conrad said.

The alliance, created in 2000 with nine charter member cities, represents about 600,000 people within King County, which has more than 30 cities and 1.7 million people. The group formalized its governance structure April 2002 with three levels of membership. Annual fees, depending on the level of membership and city population, start at $5,000.

Alliance representatives said smaller municipalities without the technical expertise or funds to develop applications benefit from the alliance. "As one of my colleagues said, the IQ of the IT has gone up exponentially," said Steven Anderson, city manager for Kenmore, Wash., which has no IT staff.


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