Earlier this year, New Jersey’s Department of Community Affairs (DCA) made some changes to the types of home improvement work that require permits. As a result, replacing siding or a roof on a single-family dwelling are now “ordinary maintenance”, and no longer require permits.
Construction Fee Analysis Tool
This is great news for contractors and homeowners, but it causes a dilemma for municipalities. Budgets that counted on revenue from those permits faced a shortfall. Several SDL clients wanted an easy way to run “what if” scenarios to see how fee schedule changes might make up the difference. Since the data they needed to use was already in their SDL systems, they asked SDL’s developers for a solution.
This led to the new Construction Fee Analysis Tool for SDL Desktop. Now any SDL Desktop user can learn in seconds:
- the impact from lost permit revenues (in dollars and as a percentage of revenue)
- how small changes in other fee schedule items could make up the loss.
SDL users were using the tool the day it was released, without database queries or even spreadsheets. As an example, we used some real-world data to see how the loss of fees would affect the town modeled in our figures. The result was serious… a 7% revenue decrease.
Then, using to tool to see which fees were collected most often, a couple of painless increases (from 8% to 13%) in other areas not only made up the shortfall, but brought projected revenue to 5% over targets.
A Cautionary Tale… and a Couple of Solutions
Fee changes are easy to make in test data, and harder when you’re wondering how residents will react. There’s an assumption that any fee increase will lead to an uproar. However, a recent article about the DCA decision made an interesting point. According to one construction company owner, “It’s not so much the cost of the permits… but the time.”
The fees were never the problem… the problem was the time spent (during working hours) calling or visiting town hall, applying for permits, getting status updates, notifying contractors, etc. Most of New Jersey’s local governments lost revenue this year… not because folks won’t pay, but because the process takes too much time. If this is the problem, what is the solution?
The solution is to modernize processes for citizens who are used to transacting business any time, from anywhere. SDL clients do this with the SDL Portal (a web-based municipal portal) and SDL Citizen mobile app.
The portal can transact the entire permit process (except for picking up the document) online. Other possibilities include license applications (e.g. mercantile, food truck, pet), Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests and online issue reporting (e.g. pothole complaints). The companion SDL Citizen mobile app (for iOS or Android) offers a simple phone-based interface for issue reporting, scheduling inspections, checking on permit statuses and more.
All this can be done at any time, from anywhere a data connection is available. That’s ideal for a working person who can’t visit or call during business hours; it’s also a relief for municipal employees who find that empowered citizens gladly eliminate a lot of the repetitive paperwork that takes up hours every week.
The Construction Fee Analysis Tool exists because we were asked to help fix a problem, and we did. However, we’d be less than conscientious if we didn’t point out that there are ways to avoid such problems. If you’re an SDL client, we’ve not only offered the solutions, we’ve delivered them… you probably already own everything you need to deploy your SDL Portal and SDL Citizen app, both of which are free for users. Please reach out to us if you want to know more.
Contact us to Take Advantage of the Analysis Tool
If you’d like to know more about using the tool, please contact our support staff at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (732) 357-1280.
If your municipality does not use SDL’s municipal management software, but you are still interested in Construction Fee Schedule Analysis, please contact email@example.com, or call (800) 805-9695.