County hopes to eliminate paper trail, delays

Mesa County is expected to roll out a new electronic-records system this fall that should make it cheaper and easier for builders and residents to obtain development applications and permits.

Officials in the county Planning and Economic Development Department last week began testing a prototype of the system, which would allow people seeking everything from a simple land split to a major residential or commercial development to submit an application via the Web.

If all goes as planned, the change would virtually eliminate the reams of paper normally associated with the development-review process.

“It seems like in 2011 we ought to be doing things that way,” said Commissioner Janet Rowland, who along with Commissioners Steve Acquafresca and Craig Meis authorized county planners to spend roughly $80,000 implementing the new system.

The new system should be online in October, according to Land Use and Development Division Director Linda Dannenberger.

County leaders talked for years about ditching the paper-heavy planning process. The discussions picked up speed, and county planners began working on programming and analysis with the county’s software vendors in November.

The entire process will be completed electronically: the filing of the application; the review by county planners; and the comments submitted by outside agencies. Rather than wait for a phone call or packet in the mail, all parties will be able to track the progress of an application in real time on the Web, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All that’s needed is Internet access.

Dannenberger said she plans to track how much the county will save in money, paper, staff time and storage space.

She noted that while the Web will be the primary way in which development review is conducted in the future, it won’t be the only method. She acknowledged that on the occasions that applicants don’t have a computer, staff will either assist them with the electronic process or take a paper application. She emphasized the county wants to avoid electronic dead-ends and will maintain some human interaction.

Keith Ehlers, a land planner with Ciavonne, Roberts & Associates, a Grand Junction landscape design firm that frequently is involved in development applications, applauded the change and said he hopes the Planning and Economic Development Department’s move to a Web-based system triggers other areas of local government to do the same with the work they perform.

“First and foremost, the idea is excellent. If we can get it executed, we’re all real excited for it,” Ehlers said. “In our office, it’ll save hugely in the amount of paper you go through and filing.”

He said the launch of the system likely will encounter some rough spots, though.

“I’m hopeful and optimistic that this will work as we intend it to, as long as we all have the patience to work through the implementation,” he said.



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