Prince George’s County officials hope a plan to create a new agency to handle permits and code enforcement in the county will produce new efficiencies.
County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) sent an executive order to the Prince George’s County Council in August that would create the county Department of Permitting, Inspections and Enforcement to handle responsibilities currently spread across the Department of Environmental Resources, the Department of Health and the Department of Public Works and Transportation.
Officials said the measure, which was unanimously approved Tuesday by the County Council, will make it easier for businesses to open or expand in the county, as well as respond to residents’ complaints on unkempt and blighted houses on a timelier basis.
County officials said it is difficult to quantify the average time a business spends in the permit process, because it can vary widely depending on how many and what kinds of permits an applicant needs.
Carla Reid, the county’s deputy chief administrative officer for economic development and public infrastructure, said that the current responsibilities of these agencies — particularly DER — is too broad, making things like the permitting process too cumbersome to navigate.
“The mission of DER is very broad, covering a range of functions, covering anything related to the environment, waste management, animal management and watershed protection to property standards and permitting functions,” Reid said. “A lot of times, those missions conflict and compete with each other, so we decided it would better serve the public by separating some of those diverse missions.”
Reid said the county will work on the logistics of the new agency, including where it should be located, but stressed everything permit and code enforcement-related would be all under one roof by July 2013. County spokesman Scott Peterson said the costs associated with the creation of DPIE will be $1.5 million, budgeted in fiscal 2013.
“We’re not just moving the boxes on the organizational chart,” Reid said. “We’re also reforming processes we know don’t currently serve citizens and businesses the way we want them to.”
Chief among the upcoming reforms is finding a way to ensure multiple business permits can be reviewed at once. Reid said that currently, businesses can often only apply for one permit at a time. Businesses, especially those applying for construction and building permits, must apply for a series of different permits before they can move forward with a project.
M. H. Jim Estepp, president of the Greater Prince George’s Business Roundtable, said the plan is a “step in the right direction.”
Bringing the various permitting processes together could make the process not only quicker, but more consistent and predictable, he said.
“One of the biggest impediments we have right now in the way of attracting business and getting businesses to expand is the lethargy that’s built into the process, which is among the worst in the region,” Estepp said. “...In many cases, there are redundancies, even just among different inspectors, where you can often get different interpretations [depending on the inspector].”
Reid said the consolidation plan will also vastly improve the code enforcement process through technology upgrades. Reports lag behind deadlines or fall through the cracks completely because the current system is still heavily paper-based, Reid said.
“Citizens shouldn’t have to endure [code] violations in their neighborhoods or right next door,” Reid said. “...We want to keep track and attach triggers [for re-inspection] when the time expires for a person to correct a problem. We don’t have that now because it’s all paper-based.”
Reid said that although the current plan does not call for an increase in staffing, she said the administration will continue to monitor the new department’s progress and could hire more people at a future date.