Cecil County Biz: McCarthy Creates New Department for One-Stop Shopping for County Permits for Efficiency, Lower Costs

March 28, 2017

Cecil County Executive Alan McCarthy announced Tuesday (3/28/2017) that he is creating a new “Department of Land use and Development Services” to place under one roof permit applications and reviews for new business and development projects to streamline functions that are currently divided among three county agencies. The expedited process, including online applications for and tracking of permit review status, would also apply to residents seeking permits for renovations or improvements for their homes.

Members of the County Council were briefed on the proposal during a closed-door session Tuesday morning and a formal announcement of the plan was issued a few hours later by McCarthy’s administration.

In a statement, McCarthy said a new “Department of Land Use and Development Services” would consolidate certain “services provided by Planning and Zoning, Permits and Inspections and the plans review function of the Department of Public Works.” The change would keep current staff members involved in permit reviews in those agencies, but have them work together in a single entity to enhance collaboration and speed up the review process.

“This reorganization will result in greater efficiency with the plans review and permitting processes by bringing all employees that administer this function together in one place,” McCarthy said. The changes will not cost taxpayers more money, he added, and in fact should save the county government money due to greater “efficiencies” and a reduction of one staff position. He said the new agency should be “fully operational” by 5/1/2017.

The new agency will be headed by Eric Sennstrom, the current chief of the county Planning and Zoning Department, who will also remain as head of that department, which will continue its broader duties on land use issues in the new set-up. But some key supervisors from the Department of Public Works will shift over to the new agency.

In conjunction with the new administrative set-up, McCarthy has also authorized county acquisition of a new software system to allow businesses and citizens to apply for permits online, and to track the status of permit reviews by the county government online.

For years, local business owners have complained at public government meetings about the hurdles, delays, and sheer hassles of applying for needed permits, from building permits to sediment control and stormwater management plan approvals.

In an interview with CECIL TIMES, McCarthy acknowledged that one key component of the permit and regulatory process will not be streamlined under the new plan: health department reviews of sewer/septic and water requirements for residential and business projects. Under state and local planning rules, the health department– which is officially a state agency although it receives about 25 percent of its budget from Cecil County taxpayers—reserves authority for independent scrutiny of such issues, along with review powers over development in certain environmentally sensitive areas.

“I hope we can get the Health Department to work with our new consolidated department,” McCarthy said. As a former member of the County Council, McCarthy said, he had listened for years to citizens and business owners complain about the hurdles and hassles of dealing with county government on permit and license issues, and as county executive he “decided to do something about it.”

McCarthy is in the first few months of his term as County Executive and is scheduled to unveil his first budget for the county government on Friday.

Cecil County Council President Joyce Bowlsbey (R-2) told Cecil Times she was pleased with the new permitting initiative, saying, “It’s the right approach.” She said it would improve “customer service” to local citizens and business operators, and would be “a step in the right direction” to attract economic development in the county.

Councilor George Patchell (R-4) welcomed the plan, saying in an interview that “I like it because it will make things more efficient” for citizens and businesses. He said he particularly welcomed the county administration’s decision to invest in software technology that will make permit applications and tracking available online, steps that he said will enhance the county’s competitiveness against other areas looking to attract new business development.

Patchell commended the county executive for taking the steps to streamline the permit process, saying that McCarthy “knew there was a problem and now he’s addressed it.”

Council Vice President Dan Schneckenburger (R-3) also welcomed the initiative, saying it was “a good idea and helpful from the customer experience side.” But he wondered about “the timing of it,” with the announcement coming just a few days before McCarthy is due to unveil his Fiscal 2018 budget proposal, and said the executive “could have waited a week or two on this.”

Schneckenburger said the real test will be the “implementation” of the initiative, and how well it works to simplify the permit process and whether “we can manage it better.”

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