A new “gateway to government services” promises to eliminate something people hate about Spokane County offices: going to one department only to find out they should have gone somewhere else.
Instead of cruising for a parking space and hiking several blocks, residents can now use a new website to find out where to get a building permit, report a stray dog or complain about snow removal.
People who are thinking about buying a house can check its zoning and find out which schools their children would attend.
The system uses existing geographic information system software. Clicking on a map or entering an address or tax parcel number generates links to government agencies with jurisdiction over the property.
The “Build Regional Spokane” website – www.build regionalspokane.org – can be reached through a link on the county’s website – www. spokanecounty.org – and county officials hope other local governments will add information to the site and link to it from their websites.
The site was built by county employees as a first step toward a system that will allow constituents to conduct business online with the Department of Building and Planning.
The next step will come in mid- to late January, when Spokane County and Spokane Valley will replace obsolete building and planning software with a new system that keeps permit centers in operation around the clock.
County Building Director Randy Vissia and Mike Turbak, senior permit specialist for Spokane Valley, said public features will be implemented gradually.
For starters, customers will be able to track progress on permits and perhaps apply for permits on simple projects such as replacing furnaces, water heaters or windows. Online credit card payments are envisioned.
“I think our next step might be a residential permit,” Vissia said. “I’d like to give it a year or so before we do that.”
Also down the road, contractors may be able to submit their plans electronically. Vissia said he might ask a couple of contractors with the necessary equipment to serve as “guinea pigs.”
Meanwhile, users will be able to monitor conventionally submitted projects online.
Contractors or developers will be able to see plan reviews by various agencies as soon as they are received. Instead of mailing comment letters and waiting for written responses, the new software will email digital response forms.
County Commissioner Mark Richard said buying the new system despite a tight budget demonstrates that commissioners are “pro-business.”
The system also will help researchers who want to analyze permit data.
“It’s kind of like a live public records request,” Turbak said.
Although Spokane Valley’s and Spokane County’s systems will have the same “look and feel,” they will be separate and may be tailored to individual needs.
The SmartGov system was developed by Paladin Data Systems of Poulsbo, Wash.
Spokane County paid about $252,000 for software and equipment upgrades and will pay about $30,000 a year for maintenance. Spokane Valley’s costs are about $142,000 for software and equipment and $20,000 a year for maintenance.