NORWALK, Conn. — A $28,000 expenditure would end the “onerous process” citizens face when they attempt to arrange a public event in the City of Norwalk, City Clerk Donna King said last week.
“We have found that in 2019, it is actually ridiculous that we have a paper process like this, and we are aware that there is a better way to do this. Not only are we aware, but the public is aware that there has to be a better way,” King said to Common Council members.
The Council Finance Committee went on to unanimously approve a potential year-long contract to use Eproval special permit software; it will go to the full Council for a vote. Not only would it make life easier for PTO leaders and others who organize events, who would be able to get the necessary sign-offs while sitting at home in their jammies, but it would create a master event calendar on the City website. This would be done through a cloud, but Norwalk would own the data.
There have been multiple Facebook posts complaining about the City’s event permitting process. “I have had numerous parents and community leaders express their unhappiness, stress and disbelief at the process to me this past year,” one Parent Teacher Association (PTA) member wrote in October.
“The goal is to take the pain out of the process, not only for the resident or the applicant, but also on the City side,” Information Technology (IT) Director Karen DelVecchio said Thursday. “There are some events that may require a member of the public to get up to a dozen signatures on a permit, special events permit, and that requires a lot of coordination between departments and communication.”
The search for a better way began last fall, and, “We spent a lot of time going through and looking at what other municipalities had done, how did they address this,” DelVecchio said. Connecticut has a form online that users download, fill out and mail in, but Denver, Colo., and Aurora, Ill., use special permitting software, and “We worked very closely with the vendor. And we were able to negotiate some very good pricing from them.”
Residents will be able to access the forms from wherever they are and won’t have to schlep from one City Hall room to another, a process that King said has justifiably produced “a lot of moaning and groaning” from working folks.
“The signatures will all be done electronically with the workflow behind it,” DelVecchio said. “It’s a much more efficient approach than what we have now. And it does enhance the communication between all the departments, so we don’t have some of the surprises that we’ve had.”
Such as, a road being torn up when 400 people show up as part of a road race, because a water main broke in the middle of the night and the Department of Public Works sought to fix the problem, she said.
There are more than 100 events per year in Norwalk, and the software planning effort has identified 17 event types, “everything from the oyster festival, to a church fair to a religious procession to it’s all over the map,” DelVecchio said. If there’s a tent, code enforcement needs to sign off; if there’s hot food, the Health Department needs to be involved; and if there’s music, the noise ordinance is an issue.
“There’s a lot of back-end work that needs to be done for each of the permit types that exist,” and a task force is forming, “not only of city employees, but some of the common permit pullers for like some of the PTO organizations, and perhaps from Rowayton as well, to participate so that we can all put some focus on this and get it up and running,” she said. “I don’t think it’s going to happen before the end of the year, I really don’t.”
Finance Committee Chairman Greg Burnett (D-At Large) asked how the system will differ from the calendar/event system the Norwalk Public Library uses.
“Some of these events do not take place on city property,” DelVecchio said. “…The library doesn’t require you to have a permit, or perhaps an inspection to be able to reserve that room, or insurance…. there are a lot of moving parts to the special events that go on within the city.”
Council member John Igneri (D-District E) asked if similar progress could be made on construction permits.
Norwalk Chief of Economic and Community Development Jessica Casey is working on that, DelVecchio said.
Igneri said he’s gotten many emails complaining the events permitting process and called this a “great step forward.”
“This is a giant baby step. I know that sounds weird, but it is, it’s a giant baby step,” DelVecchio said. “This is the sort of the one permit, I think, that is the most onerous right now within the city. It’s a pain point for the City Clerk’s department, and it’s a pain point for the residents – we really do push them around the entire city and our schedule to try to get this done. For municipalities that have gone to this type of solution, they find that people find it a lot easier to do business with the city. And that actually brings in more special events, which it can be a revenue generator for the city, maybe not just on the $10 we charge for permit, which is ridiculously low, my opinion. But it also you know it, it’s the other kind of revenue that gets generated the restaurant business, the, you know, the taxi cabs, everything else that goes along with it.”