Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 22 January 2013 14:05
If all goes according to plan, public officials as well as private citizens will have dramatically faster, clearer and more detailed visual access to property parcels in Marion County.
County commissioners were expected to formally sign a contract Tuesday with Pictometry International Corp. to bring the newest generation of aerial oblique photography to the courthouse.
Cindy Magill, county appraiser, said she’s excited about the increased efficiency the upgraded geographic information system will provide for her department.
Rather than a single view, the new aerial photography will be able to generate a four-sided view of each of the 12,000-plus parcels in the county as early as this summer. She hopes to provide public access to the data within a year or two via the Internet.
“One of my goals since I’ve been here as appraiser is to get a working GIS system,” she said. “It’s another function for us to integrate with our GIS system, and be able to disseminate information to end users to use in whatever way they want.”
Started in 2005
The county signed its first contract with Pictometry just before Magill came on board in September 2005. The aerial photos, which were updated in 2008, were helpful for appraisers to identify changes in structures and properties, but the system was cumbersome to use.
Magill said the software and data had to be manually loaded on each computer, most of which didn’t have sufficient memory to handle it efficiently.
Under the new contract, the data will be stored in a Pictometry server, then simply accessed by individual users. The new system enables users to see all sides of a structure because photos are taken from four directions.
The photos of developed properties will be sharper and more detailed because the planes will be flying lower than they did under the old contract.
“They were shot higher to try to keep cost down back then,” Magill said. “But when you start enhancing your needs and capabilities, you want greater definition.”
Farm ground and pasture will continued to be photographed from a higher perspective to save money.
Although the new approach will produce sharper images of private structures, Magill said her department still will be required to assess each property manually once every six years to fulfill state requirements.
“But it gives us a good mapping foundation because you need a good mapping foundation to assist the appraiser in their assessment of property for taxation purposes,” she said.
Another advantage of the new system will be the ability to add layers of information to the maps.
“We’re in the process of developing an oil-and-gas layer where we will be able to pin location dots on all the oil-and-gas leases in the county,” Magill said. “We’ll be able to identify them by who the operator is, who the royalty interest owners are, how deep the well is, whether it’s a salt-water disposal well, or if it is an abandoned well.”
Beyond county government
Providing additional detail will make the system useful for a variety of other departments and public officials who would be authorized by password to tap into the system.
Magill envisions applications for her departmental colleagues in road and bridge, register of deeds, planning and zoning and emergency management.
Beyond county government, cities, school district and emergency-response personnel have expressed interest, too.
“We can chart where all the fire hydrants are in the county,” Magill said. “We can chart where all our large meeting buildings are—if there was a disaster, where we could house people. It could be hospitals or American Legion buildings or school auditoriums.
“We can chart where all the day-care providers are,” she added. “The sheriff could even chart (the residences of) all the sex offenders. I’m sure we have some in this county.”
An addition to the program, called Critical 360 Infrastructure 360, will enable officials to view a school, hospital, airport, power plant, municipal building or cultural attraction from the inside, outside and from above.
“If Pictometry gets the architectural floor plans, they can make a layer of the floor plan over the building and label it—this is the cafeteria, this is the auditorium, this is the shop room.
“That way, if there was a situation where they had to do a lock down, and you have people from out of town who are not familiar with the building, they will be able to look at this,” Magill said.
The interior views would be captured by a video camera that the entity would acquire for a one-time fee of $10,000 to $20,000.
“Pictometry comes and trains the person the entity wants trained to go shoot pictures of the inside of the school,” she said.
Magill said the usefulness of such technology is clear, whether students are threatened by intruder or by severe weather.
“To me, it’s being proactive to be prepared in case something happens—and not having to react after the fact and then find out you don’t have the tools you need,” she said.
When Marion County came on board with Photometry in 2005, the program was covered by a Homeland Security grant.
The contract for the new system will cost the county around $119,000, Magill said. The contract suggests a photo reflight be conducted every three years at a cost of around $140,000 per cycle.
Magill said commissioners are considering pushing back the timetable for a reflight to five years, citing the county’s slower rate of development.
The use of aerial photography could unnerve some people, but Magill doesn’t foresee any “Big Brother” issues, given the way the system works.
“It’s not a Big Brother picture in the sense that we have a camera and we’re spying on someone,” she said. “It will be a snapshot of that property at the date and time it was flown.
“Of course, this is going to make it available to people who wouldn’t even have thought about looking at a picture of house,” she added. “But the information in our office is almost all public information that anybody can come in here and request.”
Magill called the system an asset for the county—and any other public entity that decides to make use of it.
She is confident it will be a huge asset in the appraiser’s office.
“To make (the information) available to them through the Internet, which is the communication tool that is being used nowadays, is helpful to us to be able to meet the statutory deadlines we have to value properties without having to hire more people do it,” she said.
“It will also make it easier for the pubic,” she said about the prospect of Internet access. “People wouldn’t have to drive in to the courthouse or call us and want us to mail it. They can get it instantly at their finger tips.”