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The future of paperless permitting

Public health district rolling out new online process

Glen Ayers, Regional Health Inspector for the FRCOG,  with the new forms that can be filled out on line.  Recorder/Paul Franz

Glen Ayers, Regional Health Inspector for the FRCOG, with the new forms that can be filled out on line. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »

Restaurant owners, septic designers, food vendors and others who once had to file paper permits with a local board of health will now be able to both request a permit and pay for it online.

The Cooperative Public Health Service, which acts as a regional district for 10 Franklin County towns, is rolling out its new online permitting software this month. In addition to allowing both residents and board members to access the permits digitally, it will also create a comprehensive online database that has not existed before in the county.

Glen Ayers, health agent for the regional district, said that towns have either been keeping paper copies of the documents or storing information on computers in town offices. This cloud-based Internet software, provided by the Boston-based company Full Circle Technologies, will store permits from seven towns — essentially acting as a digital filing cabinet where information can be accessed with a click of a button from any computer.

The district used part of a $68,000 state grant it was awarded last year to get this online permitting program going, said Phoebe Walker, director of community services for the Franklin Regional Council of Governments. She said that the health district paid Full Circle, which also manages the COG’s digital building inspection program, about $14,000 to set up the software.

The Community Innovation Challenge grant was also used to purchase a tablet device, which will allow Ayers to fill out permit information in the field and have it saved in the digital database. If he’s inspecting a restaurant, for instance, he’ll also be able to use the tablet to look for past violations.

The rest of the grant money was used by staff to implement this and other health district programs, said Walker.

How the software works

Residents or business owners who have routinely requested permits — for things like restaurants, food vendor events at fairs, summer camp programs, septic systems and pools — will receive an email soon with instructions on how to log on to the online service.

Each person will have his or her own home page which will display any permits they file from this point forward. Additional documentation can be uploaded in PDF form and attached to the permit request — although confidential information like medical records will be stored elsewhere.

The permits can also be paid for online through an individual’s checking account (comes with a $0.25 fee) or by using credit card (fees range from $2 to $10), said Walker.

Once a permit is requested, board of health members will receive an email alerting them to review and digitally sign the document. The software will allow board members to see what’s happening in town and also monitor the work of Ayers, who is being funded through towns’ contributions to the public health district.

“It will provide more efficiency and more transparency,” said Walker. “Glen does a good job of keeping everybody in touch with what he’s doing on their behalf, but (with the software) they can actually follow it in real time.”

The online software will cover seven towns paying for health inspection services: Buckland, Charlemont, Gill, Hawley, Heath, Leyden and Monroe. The towns all had to agree on a uniform set of fees, said Walker.

Ayers said that he already has been encouraging residents and business owners to submit their information to him digitally — and doesn’t foresee the switch to the digital software being a major obstacle for people.

And during events that have many food vendors, one person will be able to gather the information for all the vendors and submit one permit request, he said.

The health district will pay Full Circle about $4,000 in fees each year, said Walker. The data will be securely stored on Full Circle’s servers, she said.

Walker said she has been happy with the company’s software, which the COG uses for its building inspection program.

You can reach Chris Shores at: cshores@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

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