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City approves new software

COVINGTON -- The Covington Planning and Zoning Department will soon be brought into the 21st century, technology-wise.

The City Council approved new software Monday night that will allow the department to track licensing, permitting and inspection activity.

Presently, the Planning and Zoning Department has no uniform way of tracking and printing reports on such activity, according to Director Randy Vinson.

All permits are logged into Microsoft XL spreadsheets with minimal reporting or summary capabilities. All reports must be generated manually, leading to "great room for error," Vinson told the council.

With the new software, the department will be able to track permits and inspections from start to finish, including inspection reports and fees paid.

Currently, business licenses and beer, wine and liquor permits are all logged into MS XL spreadsheets as well, and code enforcement documents are in Word document form with "no easy tracking capability beyond the institutional memory of the inspectors. The new software will enable the planning and zoning department as well as other departments, such as utilities, to track code compliance issues on a property address and ownership basis," Vinson said.

The department is frequently asked for activity reports, such as building permits by type or cost, by organizations such as the Newton County Homebuilder's Association, the East Metro Board of Realtors, the county tax office, industry location teams and the media, but the department has no way of printing out such reports, Vinson said. Instead, hard copies must be pulled from files.

Bobby Johnson, the city's Information Systems Director, said the software will also provide a much needed back up for records.

"Right now we have hard copies stored in a filing cabinet -- if something happens over there, we lose everything," he said.

The information will be accessible to other departments in the city and will interface with the county's database as well, Johnson said.

Johnson said the original price of the software was around $94,000, but some costs have been cut and he expects it will fall within the budgeted $57,000.

The vote to approve was 4 to 2 with Councilmen Chris Smith and Keith Dalton in opposition. Smith said he was concerned about the cost of the software and the time it will take to train staff to use it.