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Building inspections software would save time, not money

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL -- New software for building inspections in Warren County may save time but not money.

The Board of Supervisors at a work session on Tuesday learned more detailed cost figures for a proposed system touted as a way to streamline the inspections process for customers and the county.

But as supervisors learned, the system costs a significant amount up front, with ongoing service charges in subsequent years.

Building Official David Beahm presented information on EnerGov, the system provider under consideration by the county. As reflected in the cost, EnerGov would host the county's system, Beahm explained. This reduces the upfront cost because the county would not need to buy as much equipment or software. Likewise, the county would not need to monitor an off-site server.

"We're basically paying them to host that and making sure that it's up and running for us," Beahm said.

Redundancies help reduce interruptions of service, Beahm said.

EnerGov's product and services would cost $193,246 the first year. That includes $118,454 for as-needed professional services, $48,492 for software and hosting and $26,300 for two new servers and licenses. The first-year cost also reflects a discount offered through a cooperative purchase with Prince William County.

However, the cost for professional services may decrease as the department finds tasks it can do in-house, Beahm said.

Use of the software would continue to cost $48,492 each year for at least two years, according to Beahm's information. The annual cost also covers hosting services by EnerGov.

The system handles both building permits and zoning applications.

Beahm explained that the part of the system referred to as the citizen access web portal with decision making allows a user to file applications online. The service takes the user through the process, Beahm said.

The county has extended an offer to Front Royal to join in on the EnerGov system. The county provides certain building inspections services to the town. Front Royal would take on a portion of the system's cost should the town join the county as a user. Otherwise, the county would cover the entire cost.

The town would pay $48,312 of the $193,246 the first year and then $12,123 in subsequent years. The county would pay $144,934 the first year and $36,369 each subsequent year.

Supervisor Richard Traczyk voiced concern over the price.

"It's just a lot of money for a computer system," Traczyk said.

Beahm concurred.

The system has 20 identified users so far, including project management, planning and development review, inspections and code enforcement. Users range from desktop computers to devices for staff in the field. Beahm noted the county has some flexibility in the number of users.

The new system also may help the county when it puts into effect new regulations and enforcement practices for stormwater management. The Department of Environment Quality requires local governments by next July to craft rules on managing storm runoff from construction projects and set up a monitoring program.

"We're going to have a lot of responsibilities and requirements to keep documentation as well as historical data," Beahm said. "This program will do that. A lot of the jurisdictions that are not looking at a program like this, including Shenandoah, Frederick County ... they're going to be in a world of hurt because they're going to have to probably purchase something like this to make sure that they have that record retention."

Such records would include project bonds, maintenance agreements for best management practices, on-site stormwater management facilities, all of which must be inspected every five years, Beahm said.

Traczyk asked, "Is there any payback on this, do you see, like not having another hired person or something?"

County Administrator Douglas Stanley said the system should reduce the time it takes staff to process permits.

Beahm added that the system would let him reduce the workload for one part-time employee. This worker takes information from forms and other documents and stores it in a database. EnerGov and its offsite storage service would eliminate the need to perform that task. Recordkeeping in the administrative office would not necessarily disappear, Beahm said.

Stanley noted that the system will allow the public to go online to look at their permit and where it is in the process.

"...there's no dollars associated with that but it's improving our performance and the ability of the public to see what's going on in the process," Stanley said.

In the future, Beahm said he would like to set up a public computer terminal for customers to look up and view inspections documents rather than wait for an employee.

"The payback is more in the customer service than it is in reducing staffing level," Beahm said.

In response to a question from Vice Chairwoman Linda Glavis, Beahm noted that the county does not yet have a commitment from the town.

Beahm has presented information to Town Council at a recent work session.

"It seemed to be something that they were in favor of doing, but there was no commitment obviously made," Beahm recalled.

Stanley pointed out that should Front Royal decline to join the county, the county would need to wait for the town Planning and Zoning Department to hand-deliver permit applications as it currently does.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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