By transitioning to an electronic system to submit land-use applications, the La Plata County planning department expects to save the county about $30,000 each year, as well as potentially hundreds of dollars for applicants.
The department proposes that people seeking county land-use permits submit their applications by flashdrive to cut down on paper, staff members’ time and costs for both applicants and county employees.
Planning staff members average a little more than 300 projects submitted each year, and projects take about 2.5 hours or more to review.
“Paper files are not effective,” County Planner Jason Meininger said. “This will speed up review of the project, speed up staff time and save applicants money. When we accept paper, we review it, unbind it and spend time scanning it into a giant file. It’s a giant waste of time.”
The department started managing internal files electronically in October 2014, but it continued to accept paper applications for land-use permits, which are required to develop in La Plata County. An electronic submission option is the next logical step to cutting costs, Meininger said.
“Honestly, this is one of the simplest, biggest gains we could make,” he said.
Through a county-initiated program called Innovate La Plata, all departments were asked last fall to look for money-saving changes they can make within their offices to help make up for a $7.2 million budget shortfall as county property tax revenue declines.
Meininger said planning staff members evaluated how they could add value with less input, financial or otherwise, and keep staff members from drowning in stacks of paper.
The department plans to implement the new system April 10.
The department’s electronic devices have been inspected for security, and accepted files will be limited to basic formats such as Word documents, PDFs and jpegs to avoid compatibility issues.
County public libraries also have agreed to assist applicants who do not have access to electronic devices.
“This is a big ‘duh,’” said Nancy Lauro of Russell Planning and Engineering, a firm that frequently works with the county. “Every one of those documents are created electronically. I print them and scan the submissions. I sometimes print 30 copies for agencies; it’s crazy. So yeah, definitely do it. Other communities I work in already do it.”
The planning department will check in with county commissioners in about a month to provide an update.