Consolidation of permits and plans is progress

November 02, 2011

For all the consternation and controversy that’s swirled around Washington County’s ever-changing development taxes, the less-discussed and more mind-numbing issue of permits and inspections might have more real-world implications.

Over the years, few who have come cheek by jowl with the county’s building departments failed to emerge without one horror story or another about the experience. Rules and regulations can often seem to exist for no good reason. One inspector might pass a project, but a later inspector might not.

So it’s pleasing to see the progress of Washington County’s new Division of Plan Review and Permitting, which is a consolidation of review and code-enforcement duties that previously were spread among multiple county departments.

Along with streamlining the tedious gamut of bureaucracies, the division has conducted public outreach programs and open houses to explain in simple terms how building codes and enforcement work.

That’s good news for everyone, whether it’s a developer working on a shopping center or a homeowner adding a garage. On a corporate scale, time is money, and projects can become hopelessly lost in the mire. In an economy such as this one, when margins are razor thin to begin with, the difference between a smooth or rough permitting process can be critical to the project’s viability.

For the homeowner, it is often difficult to understand how and why simple improvements to a property can rack up so much paperwork and demand so many jumps through so many hoops.

Most of the rules and regulations are there for good reason, but the county should be sensitive to cases where the letter of the law flies in the face of reason. Streamlining the permitting process is a good start, but the county also should consider whether these stacks of regulations have a clear purpose.

President Obama’s administration has entered into a regulatory assessment phase (as of 2010, for example, saccharine no longer must be treated as a hazardous substance) and state and local governments should join in.

As the nation looks to pull out of a lengthy economic slump, hindrances to growth should be eliminated, if they can be done so safely. Codes should be fair and impartially enforced. Permit applications should not sit on a desk for days, weeks or months.

An expeditious and equitable permitting department is what the public deserves — and, frankly, it’s what county employees deserve as well, lest they come under attack from a frustrated public.
The commissioners get a tip of the cap for putting this process in motion, and those in the new permitting department deserve our thanks as well for its implementation. That’s the meaning of public service.

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