Friendly neighborhood police officers are a popular sight nationwide, and now Somerville, Mass., is taking that successful idea and applying it to a very different community service: the building permit process. The City of Somerville’s Inspectional Services Division is phasing in a new assignment process for building permits, dedicating each of its three building inspectors to specific city wards, which will allow those inspectors to follow a permit from the moment it is issued to completion.
Under the previous model, different inspectors could perform inspections for the same building. Under the new assignment model, homeowners, business owners and contractors will have the consistency of a single inspector from start to finish, who will also address any complaints received about a specific building. Another inspector will handle the majority of complaints that address zoning issues.
The introduction of individual inspection areas for each building inspector is one of the recommendations made in the 2010 independent report by Zucker Systems, commissioned by Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone as one of the steps towards reforming Inspectional Services.
“Inspectional services are core customer services that protect our neighborhoods and our quality of life,” Mayor Curtatone said. “With our new Superintendent of Inspectional Services Goran Smiljic leading the department into the 21st century, we are well on our way in acting upon the recommendations in the Zucker report. Assigning inspectors by ward is just one of a number of steps we are taking to make Inspectional Services more efficient, accessible and friendly, and to ensure that the city responds promptly and decisively to issues.”
Other steps being taken include the addition of a new inspector and two new clerks, improved public office hours, and new, easy-to-use online permitting, which will launch soon. Once hired, the new code enforcement inspector will be assigned to address rodent control and public sanitation issues citywide. Inspectional Services also recently added two new clerks to provide additional customer service assistance, more efficient internal processing and administrative support for the increasing number of city permits, licenses and inspections.
Meanwhile, new Inspectional Services office hours that began on July 1 align better with both contractors’ work schedules and resident needs, with the office open Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Friday from 8 a.m. to noon. The new online permitting process will be instituted soon.
“Our number one goal is to make Inspectional Services accessible and customer friendly. Assigning inspectors to specific wards helps those who pull building permits have a consistent, efficient experience working with the city, and helps our inspectors become familiar with the people and buildings they are working with,” Superintendent Smiljic said. “Our new office hours also make it easier to talk with someone immediately, when homeowners and contractors need to, instead of back and forth phone calls. I look forward to continuing the reform of Inspectional Services, which faces a growing workload, working harder and smarter, and improving the customer service for everyone who comes to our office.”
Under the new ward-based model, one inspector will be assigned to Wards 1 and 2, another for Wards 3-5, and another to Wards 6 and 7. Inspections for building permits already in process will continue under the previous model, but as new building permit applications are submitted to Inspectional Services, they will be assigned under the new ward-based assignment process.