Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Vernon planners hope computers will bust clutter

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
September 14, 2005

VERNON — With development applications becoming more time consuming and filing cabinets crammed, the Planning Department is developing a computerized system for dealing with Planning and Zoning Commission matters.

Planning officials are in the process of installing software called "GeoTMS," which will allow them to electronically track development applications that come for review to the PZC.

The system, which is already used by the Building Department to track its inspections process, should be up and running in the planning department by the end of the year, according to Neil S. Pade, economic development coordinator and assistant town planner.

Pade said Monday that the new system would be a critical step in making the development application process more efficient.

At present, all applications and related materials are logged in by hand and stored in filing cabinets, which are becoming more crowded by the day.

Old applications and PZC records are stored in a vault in the basement of Town Hall.

"Everything is stored and tracked using paper and pencil," Pade said. "It's very time consuming just to have a historical record handy, let alone process records from the public."

Noting that development materials are legal records, Pade said the present system's inefficiencies create an "enormous" potential for error.

Pade said he would like to have the software customized for the planning department within the next month. At that point, officials would use the system to begin tracking one or two applications as a way to test the new system and ensure that it is operating properly.

Once the system is installed and functioning properly, Pade said, the department's staff will be taught how to do data entry on the new system.

At the completion of this process, the computer will handle all applications, Pade said.

Officials have been working on bringing the computer software to the town since 2003, according to Robert W. Scofield, the town's director of data processing.

The software, which costs about $36,000 and is being used by towns throughout the state, has been in place in the building department for about a year.

Scofield said the software is extremely versatile and can be used for a number of tasks ranging from the tracking of building permits to the recording of new sewer connections.

The program is also relatively easy for town staffers to use, Scofield said.

In addition to the planning department, the system is also being installed in the Town Assessor's office.

Using the new system, the assessor's office would immediately be notified of any zone changes or modifications to a specific property, which could affect the land's appraisal value.

Town Assessor David A. Wheeler said the system is being tested in his office and should be ready to use within a month.

"It will be a fabulous tool," Wheeler said. "Anytime you have departments sharing with others it just makes the process quicker."

Once the software is running, Pade said, the result should be a cost savings to the town.

"Every time an application or approval is delayed, it costs the town money," Pade said. "By enhancing the manner in which these applications are processed and tracked and the way information is shared between departments, we will be able to reduce the amount of time in which applications are processed, and reduce the delay of developers and private citizens of this town."