Baltimore County Code Enforcement unveiled a new mobile system Thursday that will allow citizens to register and track neighborhood nuisance issues such as overgrown lawns, uncovered garbage and rats online.
"This is a $1.13 million platform that automates code enforcement process, inspections and enforcement efforts," County Executive Kevin Kamenetz told a gathering of members of the press and community leaders at the Historic Courthouse in Towson Thursday. "You'll be able to electronically report and track code enforcement notices countywide."
The system allows code enforcement officials to spend more time in the field, where they can access complaints on an iPad, take a photo, make a report, and issue a citation without putting pen to paper, officials said.
County employees demonstrated the new system on Thursday. A sample complaint was filed as attendees followed the online path, locating the code enforcement request page and then the complaint. The website can be directly accessed at http://www.baltimorecountymd.gov/codecomplaint.
All that needs to be entered into the online form is the problem address, and information such as the tax account number and the land parcel numbers automatically populate the form. Previously, the numbers would have to be searched for and entered manually.
Complainants need not provide contact information, officials said, as the report will provide a case number. The case number is used to track every development of the case, as well as to view electronic reports in real times as they are created. If a complainant does supply an email address on the complaint, updates will be sent to that address throughout the enforcement process.
Under the old code enforcement system, inspectors would take complaints from constituents, then had to drive to the location and fill out a report.
Lionel Van Dommelen, chief of the code enforcement division, said the time-consuming, paper-heavy process meant inspectors used carbon paper to create duplicates of reports, then took a digital picture of the site and uploaded it to a computer so it could be printed out in color. The field report, plus the photograph, also had to be sorted.
Kamenetz said the county processes around 18,000 code enforcement complaints each week, and paper and printing costs amounted to a cost of about $75,000 annually. By comparison, using iPads will cost $18,400, officials said.
The old process made it difficult for community leaders and others to follow the complaints, said Paul Hartman, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations.
"A lot of (the issue is) communication, where we don't know what the status of a complaint is at any given time," Hartman said. "Sometimes, we don't even know if the case has been closed. Has a correction notice been issued? Now, it'll allow a complainant to keep on top of what's going on."
Councilman David Marks, who represents the 5th District including Towson, said the program will be a "tremendous help," especially on complicated issues such as student rentals and foreclosures.
"We're coming up to the time of the year when tall grass and weeds are the number one issue, and I'm happy to see this rolled out," Marks said.
The code enforcement program runs on a platform by California-based Accela Inc., which the county also contracts with for animal services, development management and residential parking services.
The new code enforcement system is one of numerous technology conversions made under Kamenetz, who told those in attendance Thursday that he has pushed for a more efficient government since his election in 2010.
Some, like the My Neighborhood online mapping service, created a one-stop site for county employees and residents to find a property's zoning, tax record, public works information and more.
Others, like the recently announced voice over Internet protocol phone system, are aimed at saving money. County officials announced last month that the new telephone service, which will eliminate some phone lines by using the Internet infrastructure, will save between $800,000 and $1 million annually.