Merced County Times Newspaper
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Merced County signs software contract to improve permitting process

The Merced County Board of Supervisors has selected a new software platform and operations provider to power their local government’s digital transformation toward a simplified, one-stop permitting process. 

The county signed a 10-year contract with Accela, a San Ramon-based provider of cloud solutions at the heart of government operations. The agreement includes $4.5 million in Accela software solutions and $1.7 million in professional services.

Accela and its partners Granicus’ OpenCities and Velosimo are expected to help Merced County streamline its back-office processes and workflows, modernize resident experiences, and create more transparency and accessibility.

“The Board of Supervisors has had a laser sharp focus on doing what is necessary to make things easier, more efficient, and certainly more timely for customers who want to do business in Merced County,” said Mark Hendrickson, the assistant county executive officer. “Accela is really designed to do just that.” 

Hendrickson, who was recently promoted to the position of assistant CEO,  continues to oversee the county’s Community and Economic Development Department where he formally served as director. A recruitment process is underway to fill the department head position. 

A few years ago, the county board moved to consolidate various department activities under the umbrella of Community and Economic Development in order to develop a “one-stop-shop permitting center.” Today, the divisions of Development, Planning, Business and Environmental Health are all colocated, with administration mostly on the second floor of the County Administration building.  

Hendrickson says the recent contract with Accela simply means the county is taking the reorganization to the next level. 

He said some 33 top counties that are similar in size and/or geography to Merced County already partner with Accela, described as a trusted provider at the heart of government operations. The implementation of the new system is expected to take about 18 to 20 months, with perhaps a rollout date perhaps by the fall of 2024.  

Some details provided by Hendrickson:
  • Accela is a “cloud-based system” that will guide customers through an interactive process that will allow them to ensure the applications types they are seeking matches up with the application they are submitting. “It’s an interactive, intuitive permitting platform that will enable people to get through the application process with assistance,” he said. 
  • It will allow applicants to do things such as pay fees online, and track the status of applications in real time.  
  • Customers pursuing a building permit, for example, will be able to schedule inspections online to receive the best date and time that works for them. 
  • There will be imbedded language and translation support for all residents. 
  • The system will also engage customers so they can help identify what the county is doing well, and things that need to be improved. 

“We are very hopeful that we can continue to perfect what we do and how we do it to best serve people,” Hendrickson said. “This new platform will integrate all of our permitting functions and allow them to work more collaboratively, and in a way that will eliminate duplicative work. And the more efficient we are, the more we are saving for the county taxpayer.”

The Board of Supervisors vision is also in sync with recently enacted legislation (AB 2234 & SB 379to require certain online permitting. The laws require governments to implement electronic building/solar permitting, making this more seamless and transparent, and advancing housing affordability, residential solar adoption, and other community goals.

Dennis Michalis, the chief revenue officer for Accela, praised Merced County for seeking a “go-to foundation for future growth and flexibility.”

“They did a fantastic job adhering to their responsibility,” Michalis said. 

He explained to the Times: “You could be remodeling a home, endeavoring as a developer to build tracks of homes, or you could be a mall working to accommodate growth … and there is this process set in government that says, ‘We will do things in a certain manner to both protect the citizenry, honor the tax base that facilitates the jurisdiction, and we will do it in a manner that’s fair, equitable and efficient. In the end, technology is there to facilitate that.”

Michalis emphasized that Merced County has a “very realistic plan” that will help the region accelerate. 

“I think what Merced County is suggesting [with this move] is twofold: One, they are boldly recognizing automation and technology, combined with a vision, is the future. And two, they’re pretty much putting their emphasis behind advancement. … We are a technology provider for many cities and counties, and they are all equipped with a certain type of speed temperament. Merced represents more of a ‘We are going to make a strong pronouncement that we need business.’ … You can use the word ‘bold’ all day in this. It’s not reckless, it’s super thoughtful, and I’m really excited for all those involved.” 

Said Hendrickson, “We have an obligation as a county and an organization to make doing business in this county as simple and as efficient as possible. While I can’t speak for other jurisdictions and counties in and out of this state, we want to be the best at what we do — part of that is being efficient, being productive, being responsive to our customers. … And all this should be a good sign to folks who will potentially invest or grow or expand a business in Merced County.”

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