2012 Counties Of Excellence

by:Ed Lightsey and Ben Young

The Cherokee County government has installed a kind of civic concierge service in the hopes of speeding along the permitting and licensing processes, earning high praise from citizens, builders and developers.

To anyone who has navigated the halls of local government in search of a building permit or help on a zoning matter, the Cherokee County Development Service Center’s friendly staff would seem to move at the speed of light. “I’m not sure concierge is the proper word because we deliver the final product right then and there,” says Anna Silbernagel, director of the center. “A lot of local governments have what they call a one-stop shop, but they don’t process [all] the information right there.”

The center is driven by a local government passionate about cutting the wait time for zoning change approvals, building permits and a wide range of documents required by citizens and especially developers. With customer satisfaction at high levels, attention has focused on streamlining the processes, says L.B. Ahrens Jr., chairman of the Cherokee County Commission.

“If we get results in two weeks, can we get that down to one week?” Ahrens says. “If it’s one week, can we get that down to two days?” The ultimate goal is to process building permits, zoning applications and other procedures online and get them done in one day or less.

Instead of shuttling people from one agency to another, employees at the front desk of the Development Service Center are trained and cross-trained to process a variety of procedures in a number of county departments. “What we do is manage the process from beginning to end,” says Silbernagel. “For instance, if you come in for a building permit, you will come to our counter and you will apply there and go back out with your building permit.”

For commission chairman Ahrens, streamlining the permitting and licensing process is a key to future economic development. “We have a list, and it keeps getting longer, of what we call community selling points, and it includes the expansion of our general aviation runway to 5,000 feet, our hospital improvements and [the fact that] it doesn’t take you forever to get a building permit,” Aherns says.

“And we’ve invested $95 million in parks and recreation. Now with the development center, we feel like we’re in a good position for economic development. The center is the overall county organization, some 1,300 people that cut across all functions, from sheriff to judges, planning to zoning, roads to bridges, and it’s about complete customer satisfaction. There are two elements to that: superior customer service and continuous improvement.”

For establishing a process for speedy, friendly and efficient county services, the ACCG judges named Cherokee County a 2012 County of Excellence in the category of Financial Management/Organizational Efficiency. – EL

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