The Huntington Town Board has voted to allow online submission of building permit applications, including with electronic signatures, and the establishment of a program to refer permit reviews to a private third party.
The changes come as the department is under fire from residents and contractors for slow processing times for building permit applications, which they complain take months.
In February, town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci blamed the delays on several factors: the in-person and mail-in application intake process; COVID-19-related shutdowns; employee illness; state-mandated limits on staffing levels; and Huntington’s hot real estate market. He said the new measures will help improve the department’s efficiency.
"We’re working with the IT department to finalize forms and instructions, and we should be going live on the website soon," Lupinacci said this week.
Town officials put out a request for proposal to contract with various engineering firms to serve as third-party reviewers. There will be no additional fee charged to an applicant if a third party reviews an application.
The town board voted on the two measures at its March 16 meeting. The electronic filing measure passed 4-1, and the private third-party review program passed 3-2. Town board member Mark Cuthbertson voted against both resolutions.
Cuthbertson criticized the changes, saying, among other issues, that the electronic filing system does not allow residents to access information about the status of their permit.
"The resolutions are window-dressing that fail to address systemic problems and personnel shortcomings," he said.
Cuthbertson said in February that the appointment of retired judge Dan Martin, 73, to lead the engineering department — which oversees the building department — was a mistake because Martin is not an engineering professional.
Town board member Joan Cergol voted to approve the electronic filing measure.
"But this move did not require a town board resolution and should have been implemented at the outset of the pandemic without delay and fanfare for the convenience of applicants, as was done by our planning department," she said.
Cergol voted against the second resolution because she said it creates an additional and unnecessary layer of building department staff time and oversight.
"When government moves to privatize its most basic functions instead of adequately addressing internal dysfunctions with improved staffing and leadership, it serves neither its workforce nor the taxpayer," she said.
Town board member and Deputy Supervisor Ed Smyth said "modernizing" the town’s building department is a top operational priority.
"The large influx of permit applications in 2020 exposed decades of stagnation and antiquated procedures," he said. "Moving the application process online and allowing third-party review will bring much-needed efficiency to the department."
Town board member Gene Cook, who sponsored the resolution to hire third-party private vendors, did not respond to a request for comment.