• Posted On: March 04, 2021

The City of Urbana, OH is a small Midwest city with main street charm, a rich aviation history, and a robust manufacturing economy. A Comcate customer since 2020, the City relies on technology to make the most of limited staff. I sat down with Cat Jones, formerly with the Code Enforcement department, to learn how the agency is so effective.

Why was the City looking for Code Enforcement software?

Our old system was heavily paper-based and it took us a long time to find anything. And we didn’t have good answers for the public when they came in to complain about a property multiple times. The process took up so much of our time that we couldn’t get things abated in a timely fashion. We got a lot more complaints from the public that way.

We had an IT manager here about 10 years ago that created a database in Microsoft Access. And that database was so old it kept crashing. It got to the point that it couldn’t be upgraded to the latest version of Access. The department was also struggling to proactively enforce new programs. Our lack of modern technology was holding us back.

Cat Jones, formerly of Code Enforcement and current Human Resources Manager for the City of Urbana shares the key role that technology can play in small cities.

Tell me about your successes regarding the vacant property ordinance.

In 2018 the City launched its Vacant Building Registration Program. The ordinance says that if you have a vacant property you need to register it with the City. Before Comcate we didn’t have the time to enforce this ordinance. Now we’re able to address every single vacant property that we have on the list. And it’s quite a few, it’s actually the majority of our caseload.

We want to see the City grow and if a property sits vacant it can become a blight to the community bringing property values down with it. We want to see vacant properties improved. The City council was extremely happy when the majority of vacant properties exchange hands.

We’ve had a lot of great new owners renovating their properties, putting them on the market, and selling them for two or three times what they paid for them. Now we see that how impactful Code Enforcement’s work can be for everyone.

The City of Urbana’s successes after implementing Code Enforcement Manager by Comcate.

How did you make the case for new Code Enforcement software?

I started jotting down the amount of time it took for me to do ten letters. It took eight hours of my day. It was crazy. It got to the point that I couldn’t address anything else. Thankfully, I am familiar with different types of software. That’s when I suggested we look into something cloud-based.

It didn’t really take much for me to convince anyone. They knew what was going on. We sat down with different vendors to see what would work for us. And Comcate was at the head of the line because it’s modular and provides different types of services that we can see ourselves purchasing in the future.

What made Comcate a good fit for Urbana?

We were looking at a couple of other Code Enforcement solutions but they didn’t go cross-platform like Comcate does. They didn’t work well with our iPad in the field. Comcate works really well on our mobile devices and integrates with our GIS and auditing systems.

Comcate’s pricing was also a lot more competitive than the others quotes we got. And you had a lot more experience with smaller cities like Urbana. The other vendors we spoke with dealt with really big cities like Los Angeles.

In smaller communities, there’s usually one person running the entire department. For us, Comcate makes that possible. The software gives us back time that we can use to respond faster to complaints. And it eliminates a lot of errors associated with double entry.

Has the public’s perception of Code Enforcement changed?

I feel that the public is a lot more engaged now that we’re out in the field more. And nuisances are being abated a lot faster. What used to take three weeks to bring into compliance now takes two. We’re even developing better relationships with property owners because now we know who they are.

Comcate also makes it easier for us to spot repeat offenders across multiple properties. In our Microsoft Access database we only had one field to record who is responsible for a property. But there might be a property manager and a holding company involved. So with Comcate, we’re able to enter in all the different contacts and figure out who the right person is that can help us abate a situation.

The City of Urbana looks to boost flat housing stock with rejuvenated properties (photo credit Urbana Daily Citizen).

What surprised you most about Code Enforcement Manager?

We don’t have to customize each individual letter anymore. Now photographs are automatically embedded into the notices themselves which is just amazing. That used to take me forever. And the photographs from the old camera were horrible.

The camera was failing and the pictures were so blurry you couldn’t even tell what you were looking at. With the iPad the photos are great and they’re tied to the right cases. I used to have to manually match photos to cases when the inspector came in from the field.

Code Enforcement Manager allows you to print notices in the field or queue them for printing in the office.

Is your inspector any more efficient with Code Enforcement Manager?

Comcate increases his field time by 50%. He used to take an hour in the morning to plan his route. And another hour in the afternoon trying to figure out which photos went with which cases based on handwritten notes. With Comcate his administrative time has been cut in half.

How has Comcate changed your relationship with the city council?

Now we can show a council member the whole picture. For example, when there are multiple complaints coming in from different people about a particular neighbor sometimes that gets escalated to a council member.

Then that council member comes to us and asks why we haven’t done anything. With Comcate we’re able to provide all of the case history and show all of the neighbors we’ve circled back with.

 

 

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