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Tech talk: Council discusses how to streamline building permits in the digital age

With the municipal budget on the horizon, council discussed how they could utilize new software to continue to make township procedures more efficient.

At one point in time, Moorestown was on the cutting edge of community development software, according to Township Manager Thomas Merchel. With the municipal budget on the horizon, council discussed how it could utilize new software to continue to make township procedures more efficient.

“We wanted to be on the cutting edge of being ready for when [electronic] wet seals were accepted in New Jersey as well as taking full advantage of GIS and offering the ability for residents and contractors to be able to use portals to find out and track the status of their permits,” Merchel said.

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Councilman Michael Locatell said he has had discussions with the Economic Development Advisory Committee about creating public portals so applicants can view the process as their documents are reviewed by the zoning board, public works, planning board and other entities in town and see what stage their application is at in the process.

Township Management Information System’s coordinator John Polkiewicz said the township’s current software has portal capabilities, but the biggest obstacle to overcome is the software does not properly format the quarterly reports required by the state Department of Community Affairs.

“We can’t seem to move forward with this piece of software, so we’re looking at other options at this point,” Polkiewicz said.

Petriello said her hope is not just for tracking but for an overall more streamlined process.

In response, Locatell said there are steps the township can take right now to make application processes more efficient. He said two sets of plans are submitted when a resident has to file a building application. One of those sets is always stamped and returned to the applicant while the other stays with the township and is passed from department to department. He said the time it takes for public works and zoning to review the application is probably equivalent to the time it takes the building department to review the electrical, building, plumbing and fire subcodes.

In other towns, a builder is required to submit three sets of documents, Locatell said. One goes goes to zoning and public works while the other goes to building so that both review processes are done simultaneously, he said.

“So the two meet at the end of the train, which shaves a couple of weeks time off of an application, which I think would be very helpful and beneficial to the public if we could adapt that,” Locatell said.

In the meantime, both Polkiewicz and Merchel are looking into companies that provide community development software. Looking ahead, Polkiewicz said he anticipates that, within the next five years, there will be a major shift between paper documents and electronic documents with more engineers opting to get certified to have an electronic signature and converting to a solely electronic process.

The township website will also undergo a digital shift, Polkiewicz said. He said when the site was initially set up, it was formatted under a departmental structure. Within the next year, the website will be reorganized to make it easier for residents to find services the township has to offer, such as paying utilities online.

In other news:

  • Mayor Stacey Jordan presented a proclamation to Sustainable Moorestown in support of its community-wide yard sale.

“The township council proclaims Saturday, May 12, as a day for all Moorestown Township residents to have a community-wide yard sale in front of their residences to sell no longer needed items and to encourage the reuse or otherwise repurposing of these items,” Jordan said.

  • The next township council meeting will take place on Monday, May 7 at 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall.
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