HILO — New software that is supposed to expedite the building permit process ran into some glitches, and won’t be ready until the end of the year.
The Energov contract, a $2.3 million countywide planning and permitting system with the Plano, Texas-based Tyler Technologies Inc., began Sept. 29, 2016. It was supposed to be completed this spring.
The delay frustrates Kohala Councilman Tim Richards, who said building permit delays are keeping the county economy from rebounding as fast as it should. He asked for a progress report by June 15.
“Our economy needs help. We took quite a hit last year and part of our recovery is getting those houses built,” Richards said. “We want to move the needle. We want to make a difference. I’m asking you how do we do it, but I’m also telling you you’ve got to be doing it.”
The long delay in getting a permit, coupled with low fines for those who don’t have permits, is leading to a lot of people not getting permits at all, said Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter.
“Isn’t it true if somebody can’t wait, they build and come back for an as-built,” Poindexter asked. “Are we having a lot of that happen because they cannot wait?”
Poindexter thinks the fines should be raised.
That’s likely to happen as soon as the new software is up and running and the permit backlog is dealt with, said Public Works Director David Yamamoto. He said the county permit fees are the lowest in the state and haven’t been raised in years.
“The permit fees should at least pay for running the permit program,” Yamamoto said.
Permits currently bring in $1.8 million, and inspections bring in another $270,000 in a $5.4 million building program budget.
Yamamoto said the computer system delay came about because the new software was incompatible with the county’s geographic information system.
“They had to upgrade the Energov software to be compatible with the GIS software,” Yamamoto said.
He said the county is taking extra time with testing and training to avoid a repeat of the last time it tried to install a new program to expedite the building permit process. That one proved a costly failure.
“It was very disheartening to go through that and we don’t want to go through that again. IT (the Department of Information Technology) is stressed out and Planning and Building is stressed out,” Yamamoto said. “We have to make sure we have a working system before we put it live.”
The new Energov system has been controversial.
It was the subject of a complaint before the county Board of Ethics last year after an IT employee, who helped write the request for proposals for the software and was on the committee selecting the winning vendor afterward, was given a sole-source county contract to manage its implementation after she retired from her county job.
The Board of Ethics voted unanimously there was not enough evidence to find an ethics violation, although it cautioned the administration about improperly using an exemption in state procurement code that allows employment contracts for special and unique projects that cannot be recruited through normal civil service channels.