Cutting red tape

Manatee County government continues to make progress toward a customer-oriented, business-friendly bureaucracy.

In days gone by, the very idea would have provoked laughs as an oxymoron.

But bureaucracy as an obstacle cannot be tolerated anymore. Government must foster economic development through business recruitment and job growth, else that industry locate in a more nurturing environment.

Over the past year, the county Building Department successfully implemented an about-face on attitude, performance and procedures that earned plaudits from customers. And us. There’s still more that can be accomplished there.

Monday’s release of the lengthy Matrix Consulting Group’s study of the county’s development review and permitting process shows government’s ongoing commitment to service improvements, this time in the Planning, Public Works and other departments as well as additional changes in the Building Department.

One key goal is greater departmental coordination and streamlining procedures.

Change won’t occur immediately, as county Administrator Ed Hunzeker warned commissioners during a discussion of the Matrix report.

The study’s recommendations should please everyone from developers and builders to homeowners and handymen. Once implemented, for example, securing a permit to build a backyard sun room would no longer take months and months.

Matrix’s recommendations come from detailed interviews and input with county staff and focus groups of residents, builders and neighborhood associations.

This is not a one-sided study geared to grease the skids for big developers. Nor will implementation give a green light to the destruction of sensitive lands. This is all about service improvements for everyone.

New technology ranks high on the list to speed the process, with the essential component being a comprehensive software package installed in all departments involved in development review. The report also advises a goal of issuing 10 percent of building permits online and an expansion of online postings. Two examples of that are a “home improvement center” Web page to guide homeowners through the permit and inspection process, and a complete manual of code regulations online.

The politically charged and shifting nature of rules has vexed developers, with, for example, specific landscape requirements for one project but not for another. The playing ground should be level, not subject to the whims of a commissioner or staff member. Consistent and predictable rules, not interpretations that change with the wind, should be maintained.

Several other recommendations — out of the eight pages worth outlined in the executive summary — caught our eye.

When updating the land development code to remain current with state law and court rulings, employ the KISS approach — keep it simple — and avoid over regulating. The report also calls for tightening up timelines for processing permits and publishing those on the Web, and boosting the number of building permits granted over the counter.

The study also suggests deadlines for implementation on each goal, mostly over the next two years.

The full Matrix study, all 128 pages, can be found on the county’s Web site, at www.mymanatee.org. It’s right on the home page.

With these recommendations, the county’s on the right road to building a stronger economy — one better equipped to compete for new jobs and business.