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Residents waiting for city permits, licenses disregard recommended pandemic protocol

City urging residents to access public services online amid pandemic

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The city restricted public access to some municipal offices and urged residents to use online services in an effort to contain the spread of coronavirus.

But residents unaware of the city’s heightened response to the COVID-19 pandemic continued visiting shuttered government buildings, attempting to file paperwork and make inquiries in person.

They touched windows and doors, interacted with each other and spoke with city employees still working in their offices.

During a 30-minute window on Monday, News 8 crews observed at least 8 residents attempting to enter the Madison Avenue offices of the Indianapolis Department of Business and Neighborhood Services (BNS), formerly the Department of Code Enforcement.

The agency — responsible for property safety and maintenance, licensing, permitting, inspections, helping constituents comply with building codes and working with neighborhood organizations to educate the public — closed its lobby Monday “in light of new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH),” officials said.

Most BNS staff are working remotely, which could result in delayed responses and slower “turnaround times,” according to Brandi Pahl, a spokesperson for the department. 

“Operations are continuing here,” Pahl said. “You can do everything online. You don’t have to come down to the lobby.”

The city announced the closure and new recommended procedures on social media and via email. 

Ruben Carrillo, a resident who manages property on the city’s west side, was one of several visitors who said he “had no idea” the BNS lobby at 1200 Madison Ave. was closed.

He stopped by Monday afternoon after unsuccessfully attempting to reach agency staff by phone.

Another resident pulled a surgical mask away from his mouth to ask passersby where he could pick up a city license he had applied for.

“My reaction is, ‘What?!’” Carrillo said of the deserted lobby and signs apologizing for the closure. “I’m a little concerned because we have a pending inspection at one of our properties and we don’t know if the inspector is going to be doing his normal job these days.”

City inspections have not been disrupted by the pandemic, Pahl confirmed.

Administrative paperwork and license applications can still be dropped off outside the BNS office in marked bins.

Payments can only be submitted online or by mail and cannot be dropped off in the lobby.

Trash and recycling services, pothole repairs, contracted strip-patching work and street sweeping also remain ongoing across the city, according to the Department of Public Works (DPW).

Residents are encouraged to contest parking tickets, discuss stormwater lien releases and watch public works meetings online.

“We want to make sure that people don’t have to come downtown [to the DPW office] and interact with other folks to get those things done,” a public works official told News 8 via FaceTime.