Sept. 23, 2010
Executive’s 2011 budget will call for a new fixed-fee model to provide certainty to applicants for King County building permits
Other reforms and customer service initiatives outlined in Executive’s new strategic plan for DDES
Residents who seek permits for a number of common construction and development-related projects will now know up-front how much to budget for their project under a newly-developed fee structure at the Department of Development and Environmental Services (DDES). The changes shift the department’s practice of billing by the hour to the more customer-focused flat-fee approach.
"Charging a flat fee instead of charging by the hour creates the right incentive for government to become more efficient and effective in processing building permits,” said Executive Constantine. “Flat fees offer customers the predictability they need when planning and financing a project.”
The Executive will transmit an ordinance proposing the new DDES rate model to the King County Council on Monday as part of his 2011 Executive Proposed Budget.
The fixed-fee model is intended to give applicants more certainty up-front about the cost of permits and to fundamentally change the service culture at DDES: front-line staff will be able to concentrate more on quality service to each customer and less on meeting department standards for billable hours.
In the 20 years since the State Growth Management Act (GMA) was adopted, King County has seen the incorporation of ten new cities and the annexation of thousands of acres of formerly urban unincorporated areas. As a consequence, the DDES service area has been significantly reduced and its workload also is changing. Increasingly, the majority of permits processed at DDES will be basic and custom home construction, building additions, agricultural projects, and mining and forestry permits.
These changes are driving a number of other reforms and customer service improvements for DDES that the Executive outlined in his strategic plan for the department, which he transmitted to the County Council on Sept. 17. These new customer service initiatives include:
Relocating Offices Closer to the DDES Customer Base
When DDES moved to its Black River Campus in Renton in 1997, Renton was near the geographic center of the department service area. Today however, with all the major annexations nearly complete, the majority of DDES customers will live in the unincorporated Woodinville/Duvall and Auburn areas and on Vashon Island. DDES is working to develop proposals for new office locations that are more convenient and accessible to these populations.
Permit Integration with other County agencies
DDES has been leading a multi-department effort to implement new permitting software that will link the permit processes between DDES, the Department of Natural Resources and Parks, the Department of Executive Services and Public Health – Seattle and King County. This extensive project, due to be rolled out in mid-2011, will improve permit monitoring, provide digital access to application plans and documents, facilitate records downloads and updates from the field, broaden the range of permits that can be applied for on-line, eliminate redundancy, better enable consecutive permit review, and allow payments by credit card and access 24-hours a day. Customers will be online instead of in-line.
Currently, DDES customers must make an appointment for the majority of over-the-counter permits. In many instances, these permits are not actually issued over the counter but within a few days. A department staff team has redesigned process so that over-the-counter permits will not require an appointment and can be issued that same day. This new process will be initiated October 18, 2010.
Revised Permit Intake Process
Improving the over-the-counter permit process will remove a significant percentage of permits from the permitting queue. This will enable the department to make changes to the intake process for the remaining permits and improve permit processing times overall. This process improvement will emphasize working with clients much more extensively in advance of actually applying for the permit so that all materials needed are in order.
Work in Partnership with Cities and other Stakeholders
DDES has been proactive in reaching out to stakeholders whose input will be critical to the department’s success. These stakeholders include the development community, the Master Builders Association, the environmental community, Unincorporated Area Councils, the Municipal League, other permitting agencies, union representatives and staff. In the coming weeks and months, as the department sharpens its rural focus, DDES will reach out to key rural stakeholders and to community groups in parts of the County where there are no Unincorporated Area Councils.
Partnerships with Annexing Cities
Today, there are only a handful of cities in King County that have major annexations in progress. To facilitate these remaining annexations so that urban areas are appropriately within the boundaries of incorporated cities, the County will seek more customized solutions with cities to meet their individual interests, thereby encouraging those areas to annex as soon as possible.
Approaching Planning from a Local Government Perspective
As DDES focuses its services on the unincorporated rural areas, it will take a closer look at existing policies and regulations to see if there are better ways to balance the interests of applicants with the need to protect the environment. There may be some standards that were appropriate for urban unincorporated areas that do not necessarily fit into the rural context.