Nassau comptroller releases audit of N. Hempstead building department

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The Nassau County comptroller has released its report on an audit of the North Hempstead Town Building Department.

The audit came at the request of North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena.

The request came years after a building-department scandal in 2007. Ever since, officials have strived to revamp the department and its processes to ensure that work meets all safety codes. But for many businesses and residents, permitting-process delays persist and are often extensive and costly.

The report reveals operational shortfalls and offers recommendations to mitigate them, said Comptroller Elaine Phillips.

“We found significant operational deficiencies and have provided detailed recommendations that can help the Building Department improve efficiency and increase transparency,” Phillips said in a written statement.

“In addition, the audit revealed that a cultural shift toward prioritizing constituent service would benefit the Town, its residents and business professionals,” she said.

In conducting the audit, the comptroller’s team made it a point to hear from representatives of all parties involved in the building permit process. This included residents, members of the town’s administration, commissioners and staff, architects, engineers and contractors, according to the comptroller’s report. The team also conducted two customer satisfaction surveys of samples of people who applied for a permit or scheduled an inspection during the scope of the audit.

The audit found that the implementation of a new online portal for building department permit applications in 2020 had significant problems, including failure to utilize key features of the software, CitizenServe Online Solutions. This prompted frustration and dissatisfaction among constituents and department employees.

The audit also found inefficiencies in the department, triggered mainly by a “lack of standardized procedures and operational oversight,” according to the report.

The audit revealed that insufficient communication between the department and permit applicants, and a lack of transparency undermined constituents’ satisfaction with the department and the town’s portal.

The bifurcation of the town’s government during the audit period negatively impacted the implementation of the portal. And there was a lack of standardized procedures for requests to expedite permit applications, according to the audit.

The new system’s reporting capabilities were not fully functional, which impeded the department’s permit-tracking capabilities, as well as the ability to identify and remediate inefficiencies.

According to the comptroller’s office, through Citizenserve, the town has access to a digital toolkit to modernize the building permit process both internally, for staff, and externally, for permit applicants. The town can more fully leverage the system’s abilities to improve process flow, facilitate communication, and enable constituents to easily track their permit applications online.

A more effective use of the system could improve satisfaction for both constituents and employees, boost efficiency and transparency, and help the building department standardize processes and implement quality control, according to the report.



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