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Despite criticism, Johnson City Development Services exceeded operational goals in last 3 months

Zach Vance • Updated Nov 13, 2017 at 9:53 PM

Short staffing and new software apparently contributed to some of the recent complaints levied against the operations of Johnson City’s Development Services Department, which shapes and guides development within city limits. 

During an October agenda meeting, Johnson City commissioners expressed concern about Development Services’ operations, based on feedback from contractors and developers, and directed City Manager Pete Peterson to address those concerns. 

At Monday’s City Commission meeting, Development Services Director Angie Carrier provided an operational analysis showing, despite short staffing and the implementation of new software, her department exceeded all its operational goals since the beginning of the 2017 fiscal year. 

For major commercial building plans, Development Services aims to complete a first review within 10 days, and for residential building plans, it strives to review those plans within five days. 

According to information provided by Carrier, her department processed 96 percent, or 240, of its commercial addition plans within 10 days. Of the 88 new major commercial building plans, it processed 98 percent of those on time. 

For residential building plans, Development Services processed 98 percent of its residential addition plans and 99 percent of its new residential plans on time. 

In fact, the information Carrier presented to commissioners showed Development Services met all of its operational goals related to code enforcement, code violations and sign permitting so far this fiscal year. 

“They’ve been working hard,” Carrier said about the two dozen employees she oversees. “They work together as a team, pick up where as needed and pitch in to try and get everything done.” 

While impressed, Johnson City Mayor David Tomita said the true test will be if Development Services can maintain that efficiency moving forward. 

“The true test will be continuous improvement over time so it’s hard to judge that from where we’re sitting right now,” Tomita said. 

In October, Tomita said the department needed more consistency, and at times, depicted an unhelpful attitude, according to feedback he received. 

“We have not (seen any changes), but that does not mean nothing is happening. We’ve got to figure out a way to best measure that. That will be on us to come up with a matter to do that,” Tomita said. “I think they’re aware of the concern. The answer will come from the users.”

Following that October meeting, several local business owners, including Jason Howze with Noli food truck and Chris Cates with Edisonian Brew Shop, contacted the Johnson City Press to express their appreciation for Carrier’s department. 

“For what it's worth, the folks in that (Development Services) department have been a great service to me, and I feel it's important to contrast their negative press with the positive work I have personally seen from them,” Cates wrote. 

One of Development Services’ recent challenges, Carrier said, is the implementation of new software, called CityView, that her department launched in August.  

Although the software streamlines the permitting process and provides contractors and developers a realtime way to view the status of their permits, it has been a little difficult to learn and teach developers how to use, Carrier said. 

While permits can now be submitted online through the CityView portal, Carrier said her department will still accept the old-fashioned paper applications. 

“The software was an overhaul, and we did struggle. There was no doubt. We were trying to say, ‘Please work with us in these next couple of months.’ Because you have to teach people new stuff,” Carrier said. 

“In order to teach the development community (about the software), we have to be comfortable with it. We’re still learning the bells and whistles.” 

Short staffing has also hampered the department, as it searches for people to fill three positions. One of those is the newly-created permit technician, which will help ensure each building permit application is complete when filed. 

“They will work on the front-end to do the plan checks, make sure everything is there and complete so we can move quickly through the process,” Carrier said. 

“One of the issues we have is that the secretary will take (the permit application) and you can’t verify everything that’s needed. That will prolong the process.” 

Chief Building Officer Jim Sullivan told commissioners its been difficult to find qualified candidates with the technical skills to fill those positions. 

Johnson City Parks and Recreation Director James Ellis also provided an update on his department’s performance, and it showed activity at the city-owned Buffalo Valley Golf Course continues to decline. 

Compared to the 12,171 rounds of golf played at Buffalo Valley in 2016, this year the golf course has only seen 11,162 rounds of golf. Commissioners plan to make a decision on the golf course’s fate sometime this month. 

 

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