You can't fight City Hall, but a new computer system in Tampa will make you feel less like trying.
It is designed to help you get a quick grip on the process and help the local enforcers get a handle on what you want to do. Soon, the experience of getting a building permit should be much less confrontational and frustrating.
Getting a permit for building a simple deck in the backyard could be three times faster. Permits for a complex project could be finished 10 times faster. The change will be good for everyone involved in business and construction.
The improvements are coming, but not tomorrow. The software package the city is buying from Accela for $2.9 million requires a lot of work to get started, and should be ready to go before Christmas, says James Buckner, director of the city's Technology and Innovation Department.
City workers will be fitting their processes to the software and adding maps to the database. The goal is to be able to apply for a permit from your home or via an Internet-capable mobile phone, and then follow the progress through the various stages.
An applicant will automatically be in touch with the right people, and questions can be quickly resolved. Errors will be minimized.
Inspections can be scheduled easily and advice for fixing problems can be immediately shared. Workers in the field will be on the same page with staffers in City Hall, and the applicant can stay in the loop.
The parts of the application that are public record will be transparent. Using the map-based software, you could check on who's planning what for the vacant lot across the street.
The project is being paid for through permitting fees, Buckner says, so it will be self-sustaining. He said he didn't know if the streamlined process will lead to staff reductions. The emphasis now is on cutting wait times, adding efficiency and increasing convenience.
The idea came from Mayor Bob Buckhorn's Economic Competitiveness Committee.
The software chosen is in wide use around the country. Tampa will not be experimenting. In fact, Hillsborough County has an older version of the same program, Buckner says, and the two governments are discussing how to work more closely together.
The county is also placing a priority on better public service. Hillsborough's Environmental Protection Commission just started, for the first time in Florida, one-stop permitting. Anyone building projects involving wetlands and government-owned bodies of water will have an easier, faster experience, with no increase in costs.
Quicker turnaround need not undercut government safeguards that save money and ultimately protect property values. So it's reassuring that the city and county understand time is money, and that cities and counties do compete.
As the late clergyman Harry Emerson Fosdick once put it, "The world is moving so fast these days that the one who says it can't be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it."