Harwich Health Department Rolls Out E-Permitting

By: William F. Galvin

HARWICH — It's been a while in coming, but the board of health has rolled out the town's first e-permitting function. Additional express permitting may be coming soon for the conservation commission and building department.

Harwich is one of six towns involved in the Accela e-permitting program being overseen by the Cape Cod Commission, designed to make filing permits easier and allow the general public to conduct research on specific permits and parcels of land.

Chatham, Yarmouth and Nantucket were the initial communities chosen for the pilot program with funding available under a state community innovation grant. The pilot program was expanded to include six towns, including Harwich.

“We are live,” Health Department Director Paula Champagne informed selectmen last week. Champagne said the public can now perform five health department tasks on line, including the most popular one, filing real estate transfer inspection applications. Trench and percolation testing permits can also be filed on line. There are two tasks which span all departments, including being able to research any parcel in town and track permits through the system.

“This will be a huge time saver for many, many people within the community,” she said.

By way of example, she cited the ability to conduct parcel detail reports on a property being sold. It will save time for the attorneys, buyer and seller, realtors and the bank, Champagne said of the ability to conduct research from offices and homes.

Town Administrator Christopher Clark said the town of Yarmouth is one of the leading entities in the e-permitting program, with between 100 and 150 permits that can be accessed on line. He pointed out Yarmouth did not roll them all out all at once, but has been part of the program since 2012 and has vetted the system.

“As we get different modules done we'll roll them out,” Clark said. Eighty percent of the permitting is easily processed, but he said the other 20 percent is complicated, requiring more work; a subdivision application, for instance, cannot not be filed while sitting on a couch at home.

Champagne said e-permitting has not yet been expanded to the community development department, but as of two weeks ago it became available on the citizen access page on the health department's website.

The health director said there are training manuals on the department's website to help citizens understand how to file permits and conduct research. Her department has held a training session for commercial businesses, attended by eight to 10 companies. She will meet with real estate agents to explain how to file transfer inspection applications, conduct research on record details and access hyperlinks to scanned documents.

Those people seeking to examine a permit or conduct research do not have to log in to access the information, but Champagne said it is necessary to do so to file a permit. Those permits can be filed and paid for with an electronic check, with a fee of 40 cents, or a credit card at a 2.9 percent fee.

“We're trying out products the public will accept,” Champagne said of the first steps in e-permitting.

Selectman Julie Kavanagh wanted to know if septic system permitting would be part of the second phase. Champagne said applications require larger plans, making it more difficult to file on line. That will take more time to develop.

The next step is express permitting from the conservation commission and the building department. Clark said express permitting involves smaller, non-dimensional requests, such as a roofing or window replacement permits, but not those requiring sideline setback analysis.

The town has been working for nearly three years on the Accela program. Champagne said it was nice to finally make it available to contractors and provide access for the community.

Clark praised Champagne for the work led by her department and members of the community development team. Champagne cited the “yeoman effort” of senior health inspector Meggan Tierney and Jennifer Clarke for their commitment to the initiative over the past few years.

There is a long-term need for the town to enter data into the system. Champagne said it has been in use since May 2015, but there are years and years of data that needs to be added to the electronic data base.

Clark concurred, noting that the town of Yarmouth is directing $50,000 a year to have people build their data base. There is 100 years of data that could be made available through the system, he said.

“Lets make sure we provide good information,” Clark said. “Accela gives us the route, but it's the staff that will build the information.”