Council approves software upgrade to fix building permit system

LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today Neal Tanaka, acting deputy Building Division chief, left, and Andrew Donovan, acting Building Division chief, work on a computer in the county Building Department at West Hawaii Civic Center.

The County Council on Wednesday approved a three-year, $320,000 software license that the administration said will fix the problem holding up the county’s $2.3 million building permit system as well as improve geographic information systems at the Civil Defense Agency, Mass Transit Agency and other county departments.

The upgraded software license, with Environmental Systems Research Institute, commonly called ESRI, will give the county the ability to run enhanced mapping technology for disaster recovery, roadways and Hele-On bus routes, in addition to hooking up with the building permit system being installed at the Department of Public Works.


It also will have an online platform the public will be able to access to create their own applications.

“This opens up the ability of the layperson countywide,” said county GIS analyst Erik Lash, because it includes tools and training for the average person.

The county already has an ESRI license, but the new one will be bigger, beefier and offer more tech support, the council was told.

The council unanimously approved the new spending, but several members had a lot of questions and comments about the project and why the software had to be fast-tracked to just one hearing at the council without going through a committee first.

“I do not object to funding something well thought out, well managed and brought forward,” said Kohala Councilman Tim Richards. “It sounds like we have a failing GIS system with no redundancy and very little backing up. … I don’t appreciate the fact we got this on the 11th hour and told we’ve really got to do this or it is going to crash.”

The problem, Lash said, is that all of the county’s mapping applications have been running from a single failing server located at Civil Defense. The county recently purchased two new servers for about $20,000 each and will be incorporating them into the system.

“We have a much better idea of the issues we’re being confronted with and we have to deal with,” said Information Technology Department Director Jules Ung. “It’s not like we want to hide information from you. … Now we have a much better idea where we are today and we’re coming before you.”

Lash said he’s been talking with the company that created the Energov planning and building permit software and IT has been making “extremely good progress” getting the two software programs communicating.

The Energov software, which the county began installing in 2016, has been delayed by the communication problem and is now expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Software isn’t the only part of county government that should be communicating better, noted Council Chairman Aaron Chung.

“Communication seems to be a recurring issue between the council and administration,” Chung said. “If something comes up, please let us know. Don’t wait for us to invite you for a meeting.”

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at

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