Improved Efficiency and Transparency in Permitting
LACK OF TRANSPARENCY
When Danny Nevarez became the Acting Deputy Director with the City of Albuquerque’s Environmental Health Department, Air Quality Programs, he had difficulty assessing why the department was not able to meet some of their permit requirements. There were issues with duplicate data across programs being stored in as many as eight different databases and spreadsheets, and a lack of reporting options meant critical information was difficult to access.
Central to the Air Quality Programs’ operations is the permitting of facilities that produce air pollution; however, a tremendous backup of pending applications prevented the Division from issuing permits within the legal timeframe. “We had well over 100 pending permits, and we lacked internal communication about their statuses,” remembers Nevarez.
Additionally, Air Quality was forced to rely on the City’s notoriously slow central accounting system. Vehicle pollution team members were required to drive downtown just to drop o a payment, which frequently took a month or more to process. Often, an emissions testing station would try to purchase emission-testing certificates only to find that previous payments hadn’t yet been processed. This was inconvenient for the customer and also meant that the program budget didn’t accurately reflect its true financial situation. They needed a more transparent solution to increase efficiency.
HOW ACCELA EMPOWERS THE CITY OF ALBUQUERQUE
Albuquerque’s Consumer Health and Business Registration Programs were already using Accela Environmental Health with great success. Having been part of these implementations, Nevarez could see that the Air Quality Permitting and Vehicle Pollution Divisions would benefit from similar consistency.
Nevarez felt the solution was the right t because each Program had standard inspections and permitting tasks. However, some Program leaders felt that air quality permits were too distinctive to be based o a template. Nevarez sat down with them to examine the documents and confirmed that as many as 90% would in fact t a template.
Leadership began to lean on Nevarez to expand the scope of the project to enforcement, compliance and small business assistance. “Management quickly realized that there was value in transparency. With Accela Environmental Health, we could communicate status, progress and success to all levels of the organization.”
DATA WHERE IT MAKES A DIFFERENCE
Each Program can now use comprehensive reports to create and track financial compliance. And, customers don’t have to wait a month for a payment to be processed. The solution has enabled the City to setup a standardized collection workflow that automatically generates follow-up letters, mails post-inspection notifications and interfaces with a contracted collections vendor.
Air Quality Permitting Manager Israel Tavarez notes that it’s easier to track the financial status of a permit. Air Quality can now refuse customer requests, such as a permit modification, until outstanding fees have been paid. Tavarez estimates the Program has collected $60,000 in back fees in the first two years since going live. “It’s been pretty powerful to be able to do that.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
Nevarez’ favorite benefit is the transparency that comprehensive data management provides. The Programs can now run reports that quickly show the processing status of permits, the workloads of employees and overall productivity. The pending permit count is down by 50%, and 100% of permits are now issued within the regulated timeframe. Transparency reports can be automatically emailed to the director and staff to show the current status of every permit. “I can’t begin to communicate how big this is. Permitters and the Director alike can look at the same report and instantly know where we were in achieving our goals. Permitters can clearly see how their efforts contribute to the overall success of the Program.”
The transparency that the solution delivers has provided division managers and department leadership the tools to increase revenue, lower pending permit counts, track performance and recognize jobs well done. Says Nevarez, “Now they are tracking their work and more importantly, taking credit for their work.”