Town Building Department audit reveals inefficiencies in procedures

Town Building Department audit reveals inefficiencies in procedures
North Hempstead Town Hall in Manhasset. (Photo by Karina Kovac)

A Nassau County Comptroller audit of the Town of North Hempstead’s Building Department reveals a slew of inefficiencies in the department’s procedures.

“We found significant operational deficiencies and have provided detailed recommendations that can help the Building Department improve efficiency and increase transparency,” Nassau County Comptroller Elaine Phillips said. “In addition, the audit revealed that an attitude shift toward prioritizing constituent service would benefit the town, its residents and business professionals.”

The audit was requested by Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena, who said she made repairing the building department a priority of hers since taking office two years ago.

“The Building Department is one of the most forward-facing, necessary services that the town administers and it must be able to be relied on,” DeSena said at the 2024 State of the Town address. “With this report’s findings, we will be better able to improve the department’s processes – making its services more dependable and user-friendly for our residents and businesses.”

The audit was requested by DeSena in July 2022.

DeSena said in a statement to Newsday that the building department’s historical dysfunction needed an overhaul after issues in the department led to frustrations by local businesses and residents.

“At the heart of these difficulties rests a departmental lack of accountability, that unfortunately was exacerbated by a politicized Town Board that restructured the administrative process in 2021 to intentionally deny me necessary oversight,” DeSena said in a statement to Newsday.

She said the now Republican-controlled Town Board will be implementing changes based on the audit.

Findings in the audit include “significant problems” with the department’s online permit portal that underutilized software features, a lack of standardized procedures and operational oversight leading to operational inefficiencies, a lack of communication and transparency with permit applicants, and a lack of standardization for permit expedition procedures.

The audit also states that the town’s “bifurcation” during the 18-month audit had a negative impact on the implementation of the building department portal.

The county said that the software available for the building department can modernize permitting processes for department employees and permit applicants.

They said the department is not utilizing this software “to improve process flow, facilitate communication, and enable constituents to easily track their permit applications online.”

If utilized more, the county said this software would “improve constituent and employee satisfaction, increase efficiency and transparency, and help the Building Department to standardize processes and implement quality control.”

During the audit process, the county comptroller’s office spoke with residents, members of the town’s administration, commissioners and staff, architects, engineers and contractors. They also conducted two customer satisfaction surveys.

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