With more than 3,000 property code violations in the city this fiscal year, the Jefferson City Property and Maintenance and Enforcement Division is requesting new software to improve property code enforcement efficiency and transparency.
The Planning and Protective Services Department had about $86,000 in excess from personnel cost savings because of vacancies this fiscal year. The Jefferson City Finance Committee on Thursday approved transferring the money to the Planning and Protective Services Department's 2018 fiscal year budget, which will go toward new property code enforcement software.
The department will present the request Monday to the Jefferson City Council, which will vote on it Nov. 6.
Currently, inspectors go between City Hall and a property multiple times when working on a code violation, according to Dave Helmick, the city's housing and property inspector. He added if a property is abated, the back and forth for the property inspector is increased.
The new proposed software would allow property inspectors to conduct most of their work in the field. Inspectors would take tablets or laptops to properties, take photos of violations, and update the status or progress of a property.
Inspectors would also be able to list on the software whether a property fixed a violation within the 10-day time limit. If an inspector notices a property owner who had a violation complies before the 10 days are up, then the inspector can mark the issue as resolved on the tablet early. Before, inspectors would normally wait for the 10 days to expire before checking on the progress of the house.
Springbrook, the current financial software the Property and Maintenance and Enforcement Division uses for code enforcement, allows other software to connect with it, which the Planning and Protective Services Department plans on doing if the reappropriation is approved.
Other city departments could have the opportunity to use other modules in this software, connecting the whole system. The Property Maintenance and Enforcement Division works with other city departments like the Jefferson City Police Department, Jefferson City Fire Department and Planning and Zoning Division.
The software would allow more efficiency and communication between the city's departments, property inspectors and residents since it would update in real-time, allowing the inspectors to be more proactive.
"If you're an inspector and I'm an inspector and we both see the same issue, as soon as I click on it on my tablet, you know I'm already dealing with it," Helmick said. "Right now, the first inspector is driving back to City Hall to check and see if it's an active issue, and you don't know that it's already been taken care of, so this will really help with the communication and efficiency because we're not doubling up on looking at issues and instances like that.
"It's all about communication, whether it be communication between us and the software or us communicating with admin or other departments. Having the ability to do it all from the field and sending emails with the attachments and photos, things like that really makes it that much quicker and efficient and accurate information."
Jayme Abbott, Jefferson City neighborhood services manager, said the inspectors' goal is to be proactive when enforcing code violations. While investigating a property code complaint, inspectors also look at other properties in the neighborhood for other code violations and the software would help inspectors do more of this.
"A lot of times, we'll get anonymous complaints that are, 'This is the issue in this area,' and you drive around for an hour trying to find something that is an issue in that neighborhood, and we don't really know if we found what they were talking about or if we found something completely different," Helmick said. "This would allow us to kind of zone in on exactly what the citizen's complaining about or what the issue might be and then allow us to be proactive.
"While we're there investigating that property, we could also say, 'Well, this is a violation here, and this is a violation here,' and really look at the area as a whole and not just trying to find the one thing that the citizen complained about."
If approved by the City Council, residents would be able to update a portal through the software and make complaints, check the progress of a building, and receive emails if an inspector is looking at a property and if there was a violation at the property.
The software could cost about $34,800, with recurring expenses of around $13,000, Planning and Protective Services Director Sonny Sanders said. This includes the software and tablets for five inspectors and one office administrator, the resident web portal, and configuration and integration services.
Abbott, Sanders and Helmick said they have not decided with which software vendor they will contract. They spoke with several vendors to get ideas of what features could be installed in the new software and plan on bidding out the project if it is approved by the City Council.
While there is a 92 percent property code compliance rate, Abbott said, the number of violations almost doubled between the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years.
In 2016, the department gave 1,651 violations; there were 1,525 violations in 2015.
As of Sept. 30, the city has issued 3,031 violations, and it's on track to reach about 3,300 violations by the end of the fiscal year, Abbott said.
Abbott, Sanders and Helmick said this increase is due to new property inspectors, staff training and streamlining the current code enforcement process, such as looking at not only the property with the complaint but also the other properties in the neighborhood.
Helmick said while he thinks the number of violations would increase 25-50 percent — reaching about 4,500-5,000 — initially with the software because of improved efficiency, the number could decrease later because of the inspectors' ability to be proactive.
Violations may decrease too with more education, Helmick said. The possible new software would help the inspectors explain to both future offenders and those with property code complaints why something is or isn't considered a violation.