DeKalb County Permit Reform Process Begins — Council for Quality Growth Assists

The DeKalb County Board of Commissioners and CEO Burrell Ellis have made a substantial commitment to work together with the development community to reform the permitting process in DeKalb County. The much needed reforms will address every type of land development, building permit and business license.  The 2013 Budget approved by the Commission on (date) includes $600,000 for Phase 1 to study and implement major reforms which are desperately needed to make DeKalb competitive in the Metro Region and throughout the country. Further multi-year investments in technology upgrades must be made to fully complete the project.


The Council for Quality Growth staff and members of the development community, have been asked by Deputy Chief Operating Officer, Development, Luz Borrero to sit on a Stakeholders Group and provide input as the County begins the process of permit reform. The 25 member rooster of the Stakeholders Group includes 14 members of the Council.


COO Borrero has an aggressive goal of reform, with a completion date set for October 2014.  The county recognizes the process is scattered, technology is outdated to meet customer demands, days to issue a permit has increased, along with a declining development fund, all present challenges but ones that are ready to be met for a new generation of economic growth.


Leadership in DeKalb is very concerned about areas of decline such as:


  • Building permits have seen 50% decline in issuance since 2008;
  • New construction constituted only 12% of all permits issued in 2012;
  • A decrease in residential trade permits by 1,100 and commercial trade permits by 9,000 since 2008;
  • The average number of days to issue all types of building permits continues to increase, and greatly exceeds many metro governments.

With a focus on streamlining operations and overhauling technology, the County understands the challenges before them and has set the bar high for reform. DeKalb is unique in their development framework and can use other models as examples, but must tailor reforms to match their specific needs.

As mentioned, $600,000 has been appropriated to focus on technology needs, such as software applications and hardware to allow for more online plan submitting and review.  The County has already begun to focus on communications with the development community, a change of culture within the staff levels and looking at Best Practices and Model Jurisdictions Operation.

In an effort to help illustrate best practices around the Region, the Council for Quality Growth facilitated a presentation and tour of the Cherokee County Development Services in order to offer a different model to begin the conversation.

Members of the DeKalb County Commission, including Commission staff and top officials from CEO Burrell Ellis’s office attended, along with Cherokee Chairman Buzz Ahrens, County Manager Jerry Cooper and Community Development Director Jeff Watkins. Cherokee staff conducted a presentation of the process Cherokee undertook to reform their permit process, which stands as a model of success today.

Chairman Ahrens and Jerry Cooper discussed the path that led to reform, with a focus on culture and the backing of leadership throughout the process.  Watkins presented the six year path from start to finish, highlighting the challenges of change, the about face from internal to external priorities and creating a customer first – customer friendly model that exists today.  A tour was given of Cherokee’s facilities to highlight the one-stop station where development staff is cross-trained to service a majority of the development community’s needs.

As DeKalb County begins to review their current permitting process and seeks to reform their system to streamline services to meet the needs of the community, the Cherokee presentation allowed county officials to view one successful model, although the dynamics of DeKalb County’s size and various types of zoning, along with the scope of business is different than Cherokee Counties. One key piece of the success puzzle remains the same no matter what other differences may occur: a change in the culture from the past to a new model for the future, with buy in at all levels of government and the community it serves.

We would like to thank Commissioners Lee May, Elaine Boyer, Kathy Gannon, Jeff Rader and Sharon Barnes-Sutton and their staff for attending, along with Deputy COO Borrero and other staff from CEO Ellis’s office. Additionally, thank you to Chairman Ahrens, County Manager Cooper and Jeff Watkins for hosting the Council.

Most importantly, we commend the DeKalb CEO’s office and the County Commission for their collective efforts to provide a pathway to these reforms and we look forward to our role in leading the development community and participation in the process.