‘We’re Excited To Finally Leap into the ‘90s’: Town Switching to Digital Permitting Platform


Addressing problems that Town Hall has had for years as New Canaan has fallen behind surrounding towns, officials said last week that the municipality is finally switching over to a system where residents and business owners can apply for, purchase and receive various permits online.

New Canaan Health Director Jenn Eielson for about six months has served as co-project manager to phase in a new platform that’s expected to start a test phase Nov. 1, she said at Thursday’s regular meeting of the Health & Human Services Commission.

“We’re excited about that,” Eielson said of the OpenGov Permitting & Licensing platform during the meeting, held at Town Hall and via videoconference.

That’s for all the various different health permits—restaurants, salons, wells, septic, pools,” she continued. “And then Building Department, Planning and Zoning, Wetlands and Engineering.”

The comments came during an update to the Commission. The town will continue to operate its existing MUNIS software system alongside the new one as it phases in, she said.

For Eielson, the biggest upshot of OpenGov is streamlining the permit payment process “because right now we can only take paper check, which is beyond archaic, and then you have to scan it through a check machine, put it in the accounts, then Finance has to take that, and then we have to wait for Finance to log into the account, so nothing’s happening in real time,” she said.

“And the Building Department gets my part of the building review fee, and that’s been a mess for years, because we don’t get any log from them of what’s been paid, when it’s been paid, we have no way to look it up,” Eielson added. “So I have put spreadsheets of permits, and I review the permit number, address, but I can’t reconcile that payment. And that’s been a problem for me for 10 years.”

The Health Department currently is in a testing phase for each of its various permits and the first selectman’s office plans to notify local media outlets later this month about the upcoming change, Eielson said.

“We’re excited to finally leap into the ‘90s here and get some kind of online permitting and credit card use,” she said. “And for the Health Department, it’s the perfect time for us, because that’s when we begin restaurant relicensing, that has to be done by December 31st. So we’re kind of the guinea pigs right out of the gate with a pretty big thing. So we’re going to be emailing and communicating with our restaurants before the launch to tell them how this works. And of course, if they have any issues, one of our staff members will walk them through it.”

Eielson added that she is including a “module” for Human Services in the OpenGov test that includes a link to that town department so that visitors can make online donations. The Human Services button will allow visitors to give to various programs, such as the Food Pantry or for energy assistance, Eielson said.

Commissioners asked whether restaurants renew their permits annually (yes) and how many food service establishments are inspected by Eielson’s team (97). 

Commissioner Tom Ferguson asked about the “fail rate” of those establishments. Eielson noted that the town recently adopted the FDA Food Code, meaning there’s no “failing” score as in the past, though there are additional site visits required of town staff in cases where a restaurant or similar business violates the Health Code. 

Asked by Commissioner Russ Barksdale Jr. about whether the frequency of sanitarian visits to food service establishments or citations made is made public, Eielson said that the New Canaanite went through and reported on health inspection results in the past, “but now that there’s no failing score, it’s a harder narrative to create for the media.”

“But all our inspection reports are scanned at the day of inspection and they’re all listed and posted on Docs on Demand,” she continued, referring to a software platform accessible through the town website where PDFs of inspection results are uploaded. “So anybody can view them at any time. It’s all public record.”

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