Engaging with City government should be easy as 1-2-3, so the City of Asheville is always looking for ways that tech can help keep up the connection, make life easier and create community opportunity.
Here are 10 ways you can use tech to connect with your city government:
Pay-by-phone parking – Launched as a pilot program in 2012 and expanded to all city metered spaces the next year, Pay-By-Phone parking continues to provide convenient and change-free parking options on the streets of Asheville. Thousands of people use the service each month, 7,000 in October alone! To try it out, just follow the instructions on the parking meter!
NextBus – When’s the next bus coming to your stop? That question has gotten easier to answer since the city’s Transit Division launched the NextBus service over the summer. From your phone, just text “nextART” and the number on your bus stop to “41411” or go to www.nextbus.com/art on your smart phone to find out just when the next bus will be there. You can also call (828) 253-5691 x5 and enter the number on your bus stop to hear when your bus will arrive. Signs are at all Ride the ART stops; look for the green and blue circle. Or use your home computer if you already know your stop number and avoid a long wait at the stop!
Asheville App – The Asheville App works on the idea that, when it comes to spotting areas of the city that need attention, more eyes are better than few. You spot it, we fix it. From potholes to overgrown lots to damaged street signs, the app allows residents to report problems, upload pictures and track our progress on fixing the issue. Users can access the Asheville App from their computer or smartphone, and anyone can see what is being reported and how city personnel respond.
Online Development Portal – Time equals money, especially in the world of development, and this online tool is a real time saver. Pull construction related permits, make payments and track permit progress all online. For many basic permit types, no more in-person visits are needed. You can use the portal to schedule inspections 24 hours a day, receive confirmation of scheduling and see inspections results.
Graffiti Dashboard – When the City of Asheville began its 123 Graffiti Free removal assistance program, we knew it would be important for the public to track our progress. The dashboard shows the number of requests for cleanup assistance, how many have been completed, and how much of the money allocated by City Council has been spent. The dashboard’s design and ease of use earned it a place among the finalists for the North Carolina Technology Association’s 2014 Tech Awards.
Crime Mapper – Safety and quality of life means knowing what is going on in your neighborhood. The Crime Mapper on mapAsheville is updated with current calls for service from both the Asheville Police Department and the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office and can zoom in on specific areas or sort crime info by neighborhood.
TreeMapper – Crowd-sourced tree info! Customized by the city’s Information Technology Services and the Tree Commission from open source software, the online map is designed to increase knowledge of trees in the area, highlight their benefits to the community and enhance the way we think about trees.
An audit of the City of Asheville’s Building Safety Division by the Insurance Services Office (ISO) has resulted in high marks for performance and commitment to building code enforcement.
The Building Code Effectiveness Grading Schedule (BCEGS) measures effectiveness of building safety programs. Scores range from 1 to 10 with low scores representing the highest quality (a score of 1 is considered “exemplary”.) An ISO audit of the city’s program this summer resulted in scores of 2 for both the residential and commercial building safety programs.
“These are scores to be proud of,” said Director of Development Services Shannon Tuch. “It shows a dedication to quality, professionalism and customer service on the part of our building safety employees.”
Strong adherence to building codes affects the kind of impact natural disasters have on buildings, and positively affects the safety of citizens and the economic stability of a community.
ISO ratings also impact insurance scores statewide, and low scores like the one achieved by the City of Asheville result in lower insurance rates across North Carolina.
Asheville’s Building Safety program consists of a team of 30 people responsible for the application and permitting process, plan review, and building inspection services to all areas within the Asheville City limits. The mission of Asheville’s Building Safety program is to protect lives, health, and property in the city and to support economic development by providing quality building and development permit services while enforcing the North Carolina State Building Codes, Asheville Housing Code, and related environmental codes. The Building Safety program is a division of the Development Services Department. Click here for more information.
A team collaboration to rework the City of Asheville’s Information Technology Services Department has resulted in a dramatic 75 percent cut to the department’s energy consumption and won the city accolades on a national level.
The energy reduction initiative, undertaken over the course of a year, earned the City of Asheville a Technology Solution award from the Public Technology Institute in the “sustainability” category. IT director Jonathan Feldman and a team of City of Asheville employees from across several departments presented the award to Asheville City Council at its August 14 meeting.
“This would not have been possible without Council’s vision, the work done by our sustainability office, and the help provided by Finance,” Feldman said.
Technological advances in data management like cloud computing and virtualization allowed the IT Services to cut the size of its in-house data center in half. That means the center uses less electricity, generates less heat, and requires much less air conditioning. Heat dissipation was reduced by 26,581BTU’s an hour, an overall drop of approximately 50%, and power consumption dropped by 68,010 kilowatt hours per year, enough energy to power five homes for a year.
The department also customized office computers to the needs of employees, which often meant PCs could be replaced with lower-power units. Without affecting customer service, the move brought a drop of 19,030 kilowatt hours per year and reduction of $108,000 to workstation costs over their lifecycle.
In total, says the city’s sustainability programs manager Maggie Ullman, the overhaul amounts to a big stride in impacting the city’s carbon footprint.
“This is equivalent to the carbon sequestration of 1,359 trees. Next time you look at our mountains try counting that many trees,” Ullman said. “This project has real tangible impact on our community’s carbon footprint and demonstrates national innovation in local government sustainability.”
Asheville City Council has named both energy reduction and fiscal responsibility as strategic goals for the city, and departments throughout the organization strive to uphold those goals while maintaining customer service.
ASHEVILLE – Local leaders say the community is best served during emergencies and national disasters when area governments work together, sharing information and resources under the unified goal of lessening risks and hazards to the public.
This type of cooperation has a name: hazard mitigation. On Tuesday, Asheville City Council approved a resolution adopting the latest update to the Buncombe County Hazard Mitigation Plan.
“Hazard mitigation” is defined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as “sustained action that reduces or eliminates long-term risk to people and property from natural hazards and their effects.”
This photo, taken from staff video during the September 2004 floods, shows the serious effect the storm had on Biltmore Village. The county's hazard mitigation plan provides guidance for such emergencies.
The local Hazard Mitigation Plan includes Buncombe County and the six municipal jurisdictions located within it: the City of Asheville, and the towns of Biltmore Forest, Black Mountain, Montreat, Weaverville and Woodfin.
The plan last went through a major update in 2010, according to Asheville Assistant Fire Chief David McFee.
“Our plan is extremely comprehensive,” McFee told Asheville City Council at the Sept. 13 meeting. “It’s designed to give us guidance in all emergencies and disasters.”
McFee said the plan provides a blueprint to the city council, city staff and the community on preparedness, response, mitigation and recovery.
It’s a “living document” that is reviewed and updated regularly to stay relevant to the community’s needs and to changing technologies, he said.
The preparation and adoption of a local Hazard Mitigation Plan is also a requirement for receiving many types of mitigation and post-disaster recovery funds, according to the plan document.
During a disaster, the Asheville Fire Department coordinates all resource needs through Buncombe County Emergency Management. The AFD, Building Safety, Engineering, and Finance departments in a disaster or major emergency would forward all damage reports to Buncombe County Emergency Management, which is charged with collecting the data needed for a countywide declaration of emergency, or to request a state or federal declaration of emergency for assistance.
The approved plan update is posted on Buncombe County’s website and can be viewed by following this link:
ASHEVILLE – The Development Services Center is continuing its emphasis on providing excellent customer service by seeking regular feedback from the people it serves.
Staff recently issued an online customer service survey to gauge their performance. The goal is to keep doing what customers say is working and to improve in areas that customers felt were lacking.
Development Services is the umbrella name for the development assistance and regulation provided by five city departments: the Building Safety Department, Planning & Development Department, Transportation & Engineering Department, Water Resources Department and the Asheville Fire & Rescue Department.
Building Safety Director Robert Griffin, who oversees the Development Services Center, said his staff will continue taking surveys about every other month and that surveys are also being created for inspections and other services.
“We’re establishing a cross-functional team to look at customer service, work flow, and any other identifiable improvement area for recommended changes,” Griffin said. He added that this team will be facilitated by someone outside the development process.
Building Safety Director Robert Griffin stands next to a shelf of submitted development plans.
The overall feedback in the first survey, the results of which came back just recently, was positive. The majority of respondents (about 83 percent) came to the center to submit or pick up permits. Of that pool, some 94 percent said they were greeted promptly, and 83 percent said staffers were helpful and polite. Some 66 percent said they were able to meet with a city staff member within 15 minutes of their arrival at the center.
Respondents who met with a Development Services Center Plan Review staff member assessed them very highly: 88 percent said plan reviewers were professional, and 82 percent said reviewers were helpful and polite. Moreover, 94 percent of respondents said staff explained processes to them in a way they could understand.
In response to some respondents’ concerns about sign-in procedures and wait times, Griffin said front counter staff has been reorganized.
“Their additional function is to make sure every customer is signed in, receives service, and is updated when the time is longer than anticipated,” Griffin said.
He added that the center has changed the intake process for certain permit types to allow customers to have information entered into the computer system in a more timely way.
One survey respondent wrote of being impressed by a staff member’s work ethic: “The plan reviewer I met with said he needed to come back into work later that evening to catch up with paperwork. I was surprised that a public employee cared that much. With no pay.”
ASHEVILLE – The City of Asheville Youth Leadership Academy (CAYLA) fosters success stories for students year after year.
From 2008-2011, the total scholarship money awarded to CAYLA students was more than $400,000. In addition, 100 percent of CAYLA students in 2008-2010, as well as the 2011 graduating class have been accepted to college.
The below vignettes focus on the 2011 class, their career goals and what they’ve learned from their CAYLA internships this summer. CAYLA’s mission is to provide students with a meaningful summer work experience; leadership development through seminars and community service; and college preparatory activities, including yearlong academic support.
Since its inception in 2007, CAYLA has been nationally-recognized by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. CAYLA students are chosen through a competitive application and interview process by a committee of local educators and human resources professionals. The program is supported in part by the I Have a Dream Foundation, HomeTrust Bank, Dixon Hughes Goodman PLLC, and McGuire Wood & Bissette.
Omar Alvarado and Ceante Hudson are CAYLA students interning in the city's IT Department this summer.
Omar is a rising sophomore at Asheville High School and this is his first year in CAYLA (City of Asheville Youth Leadership Academy). Omar’s first year of CAYLA has already been very beneficial for him. He’s working with the city’s Information Technology Services Department and his internship is directly related to the career he plans on doing in the future.
After high school, Omar plans to attend UNC Asheville or N.C. State University to major in computer engineering and to pursue a career as a computer engineer. Omar is grateful for the opportunity to be able to work in a department focused on his interests and he’s gaining a great deal of experience learning about virtual software and how to troubleshoot computers. He thinks this experience is preparing him to manage workplace obstacles and is also teaching him responsibility. He hopes that the CAYLA program continues until he graduates.
Ceante is a rising senior at Asheville High School and has been a member of the CAYLA program since 2009. Ceante is involved with the AHS band, the chess club, and ASPIRE, which draws from a diverse cross-section of people to inspire students to aspire for a better life. This summer, he is interning with the city’s Information Technology Services Department, as he did his first CAYLA year. He has enjoyed building strong relationships with the staff while gaining in-depth knowledge about computers. When he graduates from high school, Ceante plans to attend N.C. State University to major in computer engineering, his chosen career field. CAYLA has made Ceante’s career goals all the more attainable because his internship is directly related with the career he wants to pursue.
Kearra Brownlee is interning with Asheville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts for her CAYLA internship.
Kearra is a rising senior who has been a member of CAYLA (City of Asheville Youth Leadership Academy) for two years. She attends Asheville High School and is involved with Colorguard, Triple S (Sisters Striving to Succeed), F.Y.I. (For Your Information), the CTE Honor Society, the National Honor Society, and AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination). After Kearra graduates she plans to attend a four-year university and major in computer science. After college, she would like to work as a computer tech and possibly attend graduate school to further her education.
During her two years with CAYLA, Kearra has enjoyed the program and has gained a lot from it. She is currently working with Asheville Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Arts Department and is quickly becoming an expert in Microsoft Excel, in addition to covering the front desk and many other miscellaneous tasks. Overall, Kearra thinks CAYLA is an amazing opportunity and encourages the city council to continue to support it for many years to come.
Jayln Folston is spending his summer as a CAYLA intern in the Water Resources Department.
Jayln is a rising sophomore at Asheville High School and is a member of the Asheville High Cougars football team. This summer he interned as a CAYLA student in the City of Asheville Water Resources Department in the Meter Services Division.
Jayln loves to challenge himself and does whatever he can to improve, both in and out of school. He is also a member of the track team at Asheville High, and currently holds a state championship ring that he proudly contributed to.
At school, Jayln takes all honor courses and is also in AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination), as well as the National Honor Society.
After he graduates, Jayln would like to continue playing football at higher levels, including collegiate. He enjoys studying world history and its various aspects. Jayln wants to learn more about our country and world. Jayln says his CAYLA internship has helped him to grow, excel, and improve as a student. He has enjoyed working with a diverse group of co-workers who taught him about teamwork, hard work, and knowing that one’s decisions really matter and do affect others. He looks forward to continuing with CAYLA in the coming years.
Jalen Freeman is readying for his junior year at Asheville High through his internship with CAYLA.
Jalen will start his junior year at Asheville High School this fall. He is on the football team as well as the indoor and outdoor track teams. Jalen is a math-oriented person who likes to work with his hands. When he graduates, he plans to enroll in a four-year college or university and major in mechanical engineering. With his degree, he plans to get a job in the automotive industry working with cars.
Jalen is enjoying his first year in the CAYLA program and likes the work he does. He splits his work week between the fleet maintenance and transit divisions. He has learned valuable skills in his time with the CAYLA program, such as how to communicate with co-workers and how to navigate the “hidden rules of the workplace.” All in all, Jalen thinks that CAYLA is a great program and is an amazing opportunity for local youth.
Jaquell Hines is interning with the fire department during his summer with CAYLA.
Jaquell is new to CAYLA this summer, and is interning with the Asheville Fire Department. This fall, Jaquell will begin his sophomore year at Asheville High School. He’s already looking forward to AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), a class that will assist him in preparing for college. Jaquell also enjoys art, history, and science.
At AFD, Jaquell has learned what it takes to be a firefighter and has a better understanding of what to do during an emergency situation. Jaquell also had the chance to join firefighters as they visited summer camps and taught children what to do when a fire occurs. CAYLA matters to him because it helps teenagers set goals for their future and gives them something productive to do with their time.
CAYLA intern Markes Jackson hopes to attend UNC Greensboro or Chapel Hill after his senior year at Asheville High.
Markes is a rising senior at Asheville High who has been in the CAYLA program for two years. He’s very outgoing in school, and enjoys being a part of AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), Sports Outreach, Aspire, and the football team. After Markes graduates, he plans to attend a four-year university, preferably at UNC-Greensboro or Chapel Hill. He has not quite decided the career he plans on pursuing in the future, but possibly wants to come back to Asheville after college and work for the city.
Markes is working for two departments this summer: Administrative Services and the Minority Business Office. Markes says his job is benefiting him because he’s thinking about working for the City of Asheville and his internship is giving him an inside look on what it would be like. CAYLA so far has been a great experience for Markes, and he is thankful to be given such an opportunity.
Abel Lomeli-Garcia is enjoying his CAYLA internship in the Building Safety Department this summer.
Abel is a rising junior at Asheville High. He is involved in cross country, indoor track, track & field, the Spanish Club, and orchestra. Despite his many activities, Abel is committed to his education: His report card has all A’s with the rare exception of a few B’s. After graduating from high school, Abel plans to attend UNC Chapel Hill and major in architecture with as many scholarships he can obtain. After college, Abel plans to further his education by earning a master’s degree to become a construction manager.
This summer, Abel has been working in the Building Safety Department, and has had the chance to visit the construction sites that the city is overseeing. He has learned the many safety features that need to be included in houses or buildings to ensure maximum security. He has also been diligently working in the office to advance his skills in Microsoft Excel. Abel thinks that CAYLA is a great program to do during the summer and believes it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Abel hopes the city can support this program for many years to come.
Manny Lomeli-Garcia has been interning with Public Works Streets Division crews this summer.
Emmanuel, whose friends call him Manny, is interning in the Public Works Department this summer. He is a rising sophomore at Asheville High school and plays on the football team. Manny plans to attend a four-year college and major in business. At this point, he is undecided about specifics but envisions himself as the CEO of a large corporation someday.
This is Manny’s first year in CAYLA and he’s been busy learning about the many functions and responsibilities of the streets division. He has had many opportunities to shadow the division’s employees and now has a much greater understanding of the services our city provides to its residents. Manny thinks CAYLA is “an amazing program” and is happy that he has had the opportunity to work alongside professionals. He is already a dedicated volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, and is also looking forward to giving back to the community with the other CAYLA students throughout the school year.
Kasia Maatafale is spending her CAYLA summer with staff in the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department.
Kasia is a rising senior at Asheville High School who has been in the CAYLA program for two years. She is involved with AP classes, AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), HOSA (Health Occupation Students of America) and is also a cheerleader. After she graduates high school, Kasia plans to attend college to become a pediatric cardiologist. She would also like to open her own school someday. She has always taken an interest in medicine and wants to be a doctor. Also she likes kids, so she combined all of these aspects and came up with this career path.
Kasia says CAYLA is giving her the tools she needs to have to fulfill her future plans. This year, Kasia is working with the Asheville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department and is enjoying her experience. Over all, Kasia thinks CAYLA is an amazing opportunity that is helping her to gain personal skills that will help her later in life.
Chris Wright, who is interning with the Asheville Fire Department this summer, hopes to one day be a music director.
Chris will start his senior year at Asheville High School this fall, where he is a member of MCJROTC, Aspire, and Strings. He plays on the golf team and is a former wrestler. Chris’ talents are also musical: He can play piano; stand up bass, electric bass, electric and acoustic guitar, and drums, nearly all of which he taught himself to play. He started out on bass in sixth grade with his strings class and has been playing bass ever since. He is also the music director at his church. Chris plans to attend a four-year college to major in music and minor in fire science. After college, he would like to become a well-known music director.
Chris is currently working with the Asheville Fire Department and he really enjoys it. He has learned about the many responsibilities firefighters have and about the technology involved in keeping people safe. Chris credits CAYLA with helping students like him to set future goals, practice their social skills, and expand their leadership potential. Chris hopes CAYLA will be around for many years.
An international organization of government IT workers recognized the City of Asheville June 15 for an innovative and cost effective point-to-point network connecting the city’s emergency response network.
The system, implemented with the assistance of IT Services, the Asheville Fire Department, and Building Safety, and with a partnership with the locally-based Skyrunner, grew out of a change in state law that limited the city’s right to use a multi-million dollar fiber optic network connecting more than 22 city facilities.
“The city was faced with paying $450,000 annually for continued use of the fiber network,” said Jonathan Feldman, City of Asheville IT Services director. “To continue meeting the public safety needs of the community, and City Council’s goal of fiscal responsibility, we needed to think outside the box.”
The “Best Practice” award, presented by GMIS (Government Management Information Sciences) International, acknowledges the city for its initiative, timeliness, and cost avoidance by building the replacement network for less than $20,000.
“The GMIS Best Practices Award is extremely important because it represents trailblazers and risk takers who find innovative, creative and exciting, and sometimes genius ways of doing things that others haven’t thought of,” said Janet Claggett, second vice president of GMIS International. “The time constraints and money constraints made the project that much more challenging, and the fact that the City of Asheville was able to pull together an innovative plan within its budget really blew the GMIS International board away.”
From October 2010 to January 2011, City of Asheville departments constructed an extensive wireless point-to-point network. Skyrunner provided highly cost effective and cutting edge radio equipment. The compact and energy efficient radios permitted installation at a greatly accelerated pace where traditional radio systems could not be reliably installed.
High-speed wireless technology represents the continuation of a station alerting system implemented by Asheville Fire and Rescue several years ago, which, in addition to other City Council investments, contributed to a three-fold improvement in cardiac emergency survival rates and a 20 percent improvement in structure fire response rates.
“This was one of those occasions to take a problem and turn it into an opportunity,” said Technical Services Manager Wanda Burgess, whose division managed the wireless project. “By partnering with other departments, public agencies and the private sector, Asheville has been able to maintain critical services to the public at greatly reduced costs.”
Click here for more information about the City of Asheville IT Services Department.
In an organization of more than 1,000 people, speedy and accurate information flow means not only increased efficiency but also real dollars. That’s an underlying theme that emerges when City of Asheville employees talk about the recently launched technology upgrade that provides not only swifter access to data but also easier communication between city departments and city customers.
The Munis system purchased by the City of Asheville from Tyler Technologies grew out of a 2009 commitment by Asheville City Council to fund a Business Technology Improvement Project to replace the organization’s aging mainframe-based system with a state-of-the-art streamlined tech upgrade.
The new system is targeted to business transactions within the city’s financial, human resources, contract management, purchasing and inventory, and utility billing functions. Dramatically eliminating paper forms in favor of digital ones reduces the time spent on each step of a transaction such as a business license application, as well as the time it takes to navigate the approval process. In a summary he wrote for the City of Asheville’s E-News in 2009, Information Technology Services Director Jonathan Feldman noted that experts estimate the switch can save more than $3 in staff time and material costs per form.
“It reduces the staffing needed for these processes, and it reduces redundancy.” Feldman says, adding that more accurate and accessible data means that city departments can close revenue gaps that may have been difficult or impossible to find with a paper-based system.
The system has been deployed in all city departments, with department heads and employees meeting with the IT department and experts from Tyler Technologies to determine how best to apply the software in their departments. In January, the city’s payroll division will join the offices using the system, followed by utility billing in July.
And like the city’s MapAsheville GIS mapping system developed in 2006, the city’s use of the Munis system will continue to evolve as more and more applications for the technology emerge.
“It’s pretty massive,” Feldman says. “It’s not just IT doing this. It’s a huge collaboration. Each department has to take ownership of how it applies to their product.”
Development Services Director Robert Griffin praised the upgrade as a boon for his department, which is in charge of processes like construction permits and business licenses. Griffin says the Munis system cuts down on the time it takes for a business privilege license to be processed, and even sends him emails when there is a form that needs his attention.
“It allows us to be more efficient and more responsive to the outside customer,” he says.
The Asheville Police Department’s recently opened Oakley Resource Center is the result of a series of partnerships and collaborations, all of which, says APD Chief William Hogan, were critical to the project’s success.
The 2,500 square-foot facility provides a satellite station for the APD’s Baker District, which serves north and east Asheville, and officially opened with an Oct. 27 ribbon cutting ceremony attended by residents of the Oakley community, N.C. Representative Patsy Keever, Buncombe County Commissioner Carol Peterson Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy, Council Member Jan Davis, and City of Asheville employees including a number of APD officers.
Throughout the presentation, Hogan and Bellamy praised the level of cooperation involved in building the new center, from its construction by A-B Tech students to a multi-departmental involvement by City of Asheville staff to the donation of materials by local suppliers.
“The collaboration with A-B Tech carpentry class speaks to a good partnership that is being advanced.” said Mayor Bellamy.
The pre-fab building was designed and constructed offsite by A-B Tech students to be an example of an energy efficient residential home before its new role as an APD station. A-B Tech President Dr. Hank Dunn and Vice President of Risk Management and Operations Max Queen were on hand for the ribbon cutting.
“When you’re a member of a community, your role is to say ‘How can I be involved? How can I help?’” Dunn said.
The Oakley Police Resource Center a few months before completion. The center officially opened Oct. 27.
Alongside the work by the students, the effort involved multiple city departments, who contributed to modifying and enhancing the station, including the city of Asheville’s building safety, information technology, parks, recreation and cultural arts, public works and water resources departments.
“This could not have happened without all the collaboration of the city departments,” Hogan said. “And without the support of the Mayor and City Council, it would not have been possible.”
The opening of the new facility, which will be a workplace and base of operations for some 40 APD officers, shows the department’s dedication to having a visible presence in the community, Bellamy said. It also provides the opportunity for the officers to continue close relationships with the surrounding neighborhoods and provides a place for neighbors to go if they need police assistance.
“This is an example of our commitment from our Chief,” she said. “We’re really doing what we need to do to make sure our city is safe.”
Click the link below to see a video about the new Oakley Police Resource Center.