Bugs still being worked out of EPIC: Some building permits still stuck in the system
Hawaii County continues to work the bugs out of its online building permit system, but some testifiers to the county Cost of Government Commission aren’t convinced it’s happening fast enough.
Commission Chairman Michael Konowicz is sympathetic. His own permit application has been stuck in the system for more than 245 days.
“Whenever I talk with people about the commission, very often people raise permitting issues as their No. 1 waster of time and money,” Konowicz said.
The $2.5 million software dubbed “EPIC,” short for Electronic Processing and Information Center, was five years in the making. The county took it live in July.
The county has been working with the vendor to address two modules in particular, notifications and cashiering, that have been problematic, said Public Works Director Ikaika Rodenhurst, addressing the commission Thursday. In addition, the initial data transfer process with the old system before EPIC went live, was incomplete, requiring a backlog of applications to be manually inputted.
“There was a couple lingering issues over the past couple months,” Rodenhurst said. “They’re being corrected and things are going much smoother than initially.”
Delays are compounded by a personnel shortage, especially in Kona, he said. Currently, the county is recruiting for four building inspectors of the 14 funded positions, and three building plans examiners of six funded positions. The county is looking at incentives to fill positions and also to see if it could bring in less experienced staff and train them up in the system.
“We’re nearly doubling what we were able to do in the past,” Rodenhurst said. “With less plan reviewers we were able to issue more with less.”
Monthly average building permits issued have climbed from 269 at the beginning of the new system to 529. In February, the system took in 753 permit applications and spit out 583 permits, with an average turnaround time of 123 days for residential permits and 138 for nonresidential.
Some permit applicants remain skeptical.
Dalene McCormick and her husband sold their residence last year, rented a home in Kailua-Kona and bought a lot to build a new residence. They submitted their building permit application in October. Some 190 days later, they’re still waiting.
“It took 109 days for anyone to look at the plans and on that day they rejected them for something minor that was corrected within an hour of the reject,” she said in testimony. “I confirmed with my contractor that the correction was made and I watched my EPIC dashboard for weeks on end waiting for the % complete to move forward and nothing happened. On 3/3, I finally called someone at the EPIC office to find out what was happening. The person I spoke to looked at my account and said, ‘oh yes I see you submitted the correction and I will move it forward.’ I was beyond confused, the correction had been submitted 42 days prior. I asked the woman why the permit did not move forward the day we submitted the correction and she said because we did not call them.”
Konowicz said his problem was similar.
“I wonder how many people on the island aren’t getting a response and don’t know to call in to trigger that response,” he said.
Rodenhurst said the system is supposed to automatically notify applicant and county when updates are submitted, but until it’s working more smoothly, it’s advisable for applicants to put a notification in the system.
Konowicz said some people are afraid to call the county to ask about their permit or complain about the time it’s taking. He said some have said, “be careful what you wish for or it will go to the bottom of the pile.”
Rodenhurst said that’s not the case.
“They don’t go to the bottom of the pile, nor do they go to the top of the pile,” he said.