Code Enforcement makes upgrades

Published 4:11 pm Friday, May 17, 2024

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JACKSON – At their meeting on May 13, the Northampton County Board of Commissioners approved two requests from the county’s Planning & Zoning (Code Enforcement) department, but decided to table a third request.

Derrick Bennett, who is currently serving as Northampton’s interim Code Enforcement Director, presented the information to the commissioners.

The first request was for the purchase of new cloud-based software from CitizenServe.

“Currently, the department is using more of an antiquated system, which is using a lot of pencil and paper that’s really not that functional for us as a department, nor for our citizens,” Bennett explained.

With the upgrade, however, citizens would be able to do more online such as requesting permits, seeing inspection results, making payments, and accessing information about building codes. Bennett also noted that inspectors will be able to upload their results from out in the field as well.

The software purchase would cost an initial fee of $7,500 along with the annual subscription fee of $13,500 (which is $2,700 per user) for a total of $21,000. In following years, however, they would only have to pay the annual $13,500 fee.

Bennett noted that the department had a surplus of funds available to make the purchase.

“This is a great program,” said Commissioner Melvetta Broadnax Taylor. “It keeps more of your officers in the field and not behind a desk.”

She asked how the department will help citizens who aren’t as “tech-savvy,” and Bennett answered they’ll have a computer in the office available so staff can guide them through the process or they can fill out a paper form like before.

“We’re trying to bring us out of the stone ages,” Bennett said.

Commissioner Ed Martin said he thought the software was a good idea, and motioned to approve the purchase. Broadnax Taylor seconded, and the vote was unanimously in favor by those in attendance. Commissioner Kelvin Edwards was not able to attend Monday’s meeting.

The commissioners also unanimously approved a $2,000 amendment to a contract with Code Plus Inc, which is providing training and technical supervision to the county’s recently hired building inspectors.

Bennett explained that the contract is for a 12-month period to ensure that the staff are fully trained.

Bennett’s final request of the evening involved proposed changes to the county’s zoning permit fee schedule. He noted that the Planning Board met earlier this month and recommended the changes.

The county’s current zoning permit fee is $20, which is one of the lowest when compared to surrounding counties. Halifax and Gates counties both charge $25, while Hertford County charges $50. Warren County was the highest in the area at $100.

The proposal would increase the fee to $50.

Bennett explained that the current cost is not enough to support the time and labor it takes to process a permit request.

Commissioner Geneva Faulkner asked how the department had a surplus if the fee is inadequate, and Bennett explained that it was a one-time surplus and not something that is recurring.

Broadnax Taylor stated that if they were to increase the fee, then she expects the department to provide “top-rate” service as well.

Other proposed fee changes include lowering the rezoning/ordinance amendment fee from $400 to $275, and increasing the appeal of administrative determinations from $50 to $275. For subdivision applications, the initial fee will remain at $100 but the cost for each lot above two would increase from $5 to $10.

The special use permit fee and the zoning variance fee would both remain at $275.

Instead of approving or rejecting the proposal, the commissioners, decided they wanted more time to consider the request. They tabled the decision on the matter until the next meeting, scheduled for Monday, May 20.

Bennett concluded his presentation by announcing that a public hearing will also be held on May 20 (at 5:30 p.m.) to consider proposed changes to the county’s zoning ordinance. Those changes primarily concern solar facilities and their oversight.

A few citizens who live in the Gaston area spoke during the May 13 meeting to express their concerns about solar projects near their homes.