County puts off new inspections system

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County plans to wait a little longer to go live with its new building inspections software.

The Board of Supervisors in October 2013 approved spending approximately $200,000 on a zoning and buildings inspections program and equipment provided by EnerGov Software Solutions. The county also pays the annual subscription price of almost $50,000. In December 2013, Front Royal Town Council voted to partner with the county in the inspections system upgrade and to spend up to $50,000 to cover its share of the cost. The arrangement lowers the county’s cost.

As a result of delays in going live, the board this summer approved a change order to extend the implementation process of the software at a cost of $15,600.

Front Royal and county officials on Thursday learned that implementation likely won’t occur until early next year. County Administrator Douglas Stanley and Building Official David Beahm updated members of the liaison committee on the efforts to go live with the software aimed to streamline the inspections process and allow remote, public access.

The department had planned to go live with the system July 1 but pushed that date into September and then November, Beahm said. The department set a new, tentative time of early next year. A training session is scheduled for late October – one that Beahm said is needed prior to going live.

“Staff time is a very critical piece in this and I don’t know that we really fathomed the amount of work that the staff is having to do,” Beahm said. “The town is putting a lot of time and effort into this to get their portion of it ready.”

Beahm added that he wanted to go live with the system in time for the permitting of the second middle school, scheduled to open in late summer 2017. The permitting process is nearing completion, Beahm noted.

Town Manager Steve Burke said Front Royal’s zoning and GIS data will be integrated with the software. Town officials want a seamless connection between GIS and the software so a user can plug in an address and see what permits and approvals are needed.

Fauquier County went live with EnerGov about a year ago. Beahm and Stanley noted that Fauquier County officials advised that Warren County staff should wait until they go live with their system. Beahm said that a Fauquier County official in charge of initiating the system said she wished they had waited to go live.

Warren County officials also met with counterparts in Prince William County who offered the same advice – make sure you’re comfortable before you go live. Prince William County has one employee solely dedicated to managing the system with a staff of three or four people, Beahm said.

In Warren County’s case, the department has four employees trained to use the system, including Paula Fristow, permit center supervisor, and GIS Coordinator Doug Sexton, Beahm said. The system can work with the county’s GIS, Beahm added.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Richard Traczyk, who’s voiced concern about the program’s cost, asked if counties are saving money with the new software or does EnerGov just improve speed and accuracy of the inspections process. Beahm said it does the latter.

“Customer service is going to be the crucial piece,” Beahm said. “The ease of which the system will allow instantaneous information being translated to the customer is going to be the critical piece.”

Traczyk warned that the department faces a “mammoth project” of data entry.

Inspectors, using handheld devices, can report violations or post other important data about a property or project directly into the department’s system. The notices also can be sent instantly to the property owner. This should help cut down much of the time it takes inspectors to enter data, Stanley said. Vice Chairwoman Linda Glavis asked if the devices would work in all parts of the county, which they might not. Stanley said the devices send the data as soon as they reach a signal.

A study conducted by the Springsted consulting firm in 2012 outlined ways the county could improve the building inspections department especially in customer service. Implementation of the EnerGov is seen as one way to improve customer service.

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