New building permit system 3 months out

  • Michael Yee
  • Neal Tanaka, acting deputy Building Division chief, left, and Andrew Donovan, acting Building Division chief, work on a computer at the Building Department at the West Hawaii Civic Center in April. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today file)
  • Jules Ung

HILO — A multi-agency software system designed to streamline the planning and building permit process has been delayed another three months, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Officials from the mayor’s office, Planning Department, Public Works and Information Technology on Tuesday updated the County Council Public Works and Mass Transit Committee, saying the Energov program is coming together and being tested and should be ready for roll-out at the end of March.

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Officials earlier this year had estimated an end-of-year “go live.”

“This has been promised to us, and I use that term loosely, for a year and some change and people in my district are anxious for this to get up and running,” said Kohala Councilman Tim Richards.

The $2.3 million program will integrate data from property records, zoning, critical habitat, infrastructure like sewer, contractor licenses, building and parcel designs and details and much more into a single system that will allow inspectors from multiple departments to work on a permit application simultaneously, rather than shuffling paper from one desk to another.

But since its inception in 2016, the program has run into a number of hurdles, causing additional delays and expenses for new servers with the capacity to handle the powerful system, to additional staff to process old records and new applications and get them into the system to new geographic information system software licenses after the old software wouldn’t interface with the Energov system.

“We’ve had a huge amount of legacy data to scrub and analyze and … additionally we have a lot of new data to integrate,” said Information Technology Director Jules Ung. “We all have challenges due to the scarcity of resources, due to the scarcity of staffing.”

In between, a volcanic eruption, major floods from a hurricane, a 10-year update of the county general plan, a new energy code and implementation of a new vacation rental registration law stressed staff to the breaking stage, officials said.

Once the system is ready to go, the county will hire a program manager who will coordinate and prioritize input from one “super-user” from each department to make the system even more customized as it operates. Meanwhile, three planning consultants from the community, volunteering without pay, are helping troubleshoot the system as it develops, said Planning Director Michael Yee.

Council members praised the departments for their tenacity and communication.

“It really is nice to see all the different departments working together,” said Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy.

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North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff also complimented the administration.

“We haven’t had such an uplifting presentation for a while,” Eoff said. “This looks like a step in the right direction.”

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