Cities and county consider fees for online business permits
Washoe County and the cities of Reno and Sparks are considering adding a technology fee to licenses and permits to cover the costs of implementing a new, regional online filing system.
The three local governments plan to launch a cloud-based system in early 2015 which would allow businesses to go online to get permits and licenses recognized by all three municipalities.
“We get a lot of complaints on having to go to three different jurisdictions for licenses,” says Michael Chaump, City of Reno business relations manager. “Our goal is one regional license for all (types) of licenses. We’re also a little bit behind on our online presence, and surveys show that’s a customer priority.”
The online system is the culmination of a three-year effort to streamline and consolidate the area’s disparate license and permit procedures, which are each based on outdated software that doesn’t support online processing. As part of that work, Washoe, Reno and Sparks, which now charge different fees for the same type of permit or license, are working on establishing a standard fee schedule.
The cloud-based service from Accela Inc. was chosen after nine companies responded to a request for proposal. It will cost $1.67 million to implement, including the first-year subscription. Annual operating costs are approximately $399,000.
The three governments will split the costs and would like to fund it without dipping into their respective general funds. They are looking for feedback on the proposed fees from businesses at a public workshop Tuesday, from 5:30 to 7 p.m., at Reno City Hall.
The new technology fees, if implemented, would be imposed when the service launches and only on licenses and permits obtained online. The fee might sunset, says Chaump, once the cost of the initial outlay is recouped. Accela, through a third-party, provides financing over five years so the fees would likely stretch over that time period.
A schedule of fees is being proposed: a 4 percent charge for building, planning and health permits; a $5 fee for business licenses; and a $2 add-on for quarterly licenses such as liquor licenses.
A 4 percent fee for a single-family building permit, for example, would tack on $120 to the $3,000 current cost of the permit. A restaurant would pay an additional $6 for its $148 health permit.
Chaump says businesses have so far been supportive of the idea of a new technology fee as long as the new process provides quantifiable efficiencies.
For businesses, savings from filing online could range from staff time now spent applying in person at city and county offices to thousands of dollars saved filing complex building plans electronically rather than producing multiple paper copies, says Chaump.
For the city, the savings are harder to assess, he says. But as one example, Chaump says Reno spends $20,000 annually on postage to send business licenses to the city’s 22,000 licensed businesses.
The city also plans to have field inspectors, such as building and health inspectors, access the Accela service using mobile devices to record and file their inspections in real time.
In-person filing for licenses and permits will still be available after the online system goes live.
“Even if there was only 25 percent participation,” says Chaump, “that would reduce our costs by 25 percent.”
“There is a lot of economic uncertainty still, so priority No. 1 for every single small business owner should be survival … And this second round of PPP is basically the lifeline to survive.”