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Ideas push flexibility, simplicity

Businesses have plenty of suggestions for improving permitting, inspections.

By LORRI HELFAND, Times Staff Writer
Published December 12, 2007


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A panel of business leaders offered their suggestions for simplifying the city's permitting and inspection process to city commissioners on Tuesday.

Recommendations from the Largo Business Development Review panel included making the department's hours more flexible, creating a more comfortable atmosphere and distributing a user-friendly checklist to guide businesses and residents through the process.

The panel, a partnership between the city and the Largo/Mid-Pinellas Chamber of Commerce, was created earlier this year to help identify the obstacles encountered by new and expanding businesses.

The group surveyed 100 city customers and organized a series of focus groups.

"One of the strongest themes that came out of this was communication," said Vice Mayor Andy Guyette, one of 13 panel members.

Panel chairman Joe Falanga said several of those surveyed reported difficulty reaching staff during the process. The panel suggested publishing employees' direct phone lines and e-mail addresses. It also strongly recommended making forms available online and instituting online methods of tracking the permitting process.

Chamber president Tom Morrissette said his organization asked the city to create the panel after several business owners complained about the difficulties and confusion they faced starting their businesses.

"We had different companies come in and say we're kind of lost in the process," Morrissette said.

The goal, he said, was to make the process more business-friendly and easier to navigate.

The panel also suggested adding staff to alleviate the members' workload and better serve customers.

Mike Staffopoulos, assistant city manager, said the city might consider hiring an office specialist who would help guide applicants through the process.

"I think that would be a good move down the road," Guyette said.

Other suggestions included:

- Ending a requirement to identify all subcontractors at the beginning of the permitting process.

- Eliminating a $10 registration fee for contractors that are already licensed by the state. The fee reduction, supported by most commissioners, would decrease revenues by about $13,500.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or 727 445-4155.

[Last modified December 11, 2007, 22:45:35]


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