A pitch for countywide aerial photography to assist a property revaluation process was not received favorably by the Sampson County Board of Commissioners, which chose not to fund the request by the Tax Department.
Tax administrator Jim Johnson spoke to the board about oblique imagery during its meeting last month and discussion on the matter continued earlier this week.
Oblique imagery is aerial photography that is captured in an angle with the ground, offering the user the ability to see and measure the top and sides of a structure. The availability of such imagery would enable more accurate decisions concerning values during the revaluation process, Johnson and other staff members said.
Johnson was in contact with two companies that provide the service in North Carolina, one of which invented the technology behind aerial oblique image capture. That company, Pictometry, has served 47 of the state’s counties over the past 12 years.
Pictometry’s targeted capture would occur in early 2017. Two flights could be provided at a rate of $146,657 and $155,912 within a six-year period, with funding from money set aside by the county each year for the revaluation process, which is conducted every eight years. The next revaluation is in 2019.
As part of its service, the company would fly each square mile of the county to get a five-angle aerial photograph of every single building in the county.
“We think this will enhance our revaluation in order to help us get our data correct,” Johnson said. “We think it’s the right time to proceed forward with this kind of technology. We feel like this would correct a lot of data errors.”
Juanita Brewington, purchasing and contracting officer, said during a previous meeting that the technology allows the ability to see and measure the top and sides of a structure.
“Access to the host server (Pictometry) will benefit the Board of Commissioners during appeals to the Board of Equalization and Review as the oblique imagery will be available to make more accurate decisions concerning values,” Brewington stated in a memo.
Change finder technology will also help the Tax Department identify any parcels with a building change of 150 square feet or greater, as well as assist staff in correcting tax data, conducting discoveries and creating additional revenue for the county.
“Property tax assessment is probably the biggest use for this type of technology, but there are other departments that can benefit from this — EMS and Sheriff — as well,” Johnson stated. Others that could benefit include Planning and Zoning, Economic Development and Public Works, Brewington added.
“We understand we don’t want to spend any more money than we have to for anything,” said County manager Ed Causey, “but there is money available in our revaluation money (amassed) over the eight-year period that can pay for this.”
Causey noted that during the last revaluation in 2011, the Board of Equalization & Review (the Sampson Board of Commissioners serves in that capacity) heard numerous concerns from taxpayers.
“We believe this would be a real asset,” the county manager remarked. “Many of the questions that come in are about the information we are valuating, as opposed to the actual valuation itself. If we can eliminate that as a question, then we’ve got it.”
With the Department of Revenue pushing for a four-year cycle for revaluations, compared to the current eight-year cycle, having the technology could serve as a huge benefit.
“We will always have questions of value, but I think this will help us do a better job of eliminating the questions of what it is we are valuating,” said Causey. “We see some short-term and long-term benefits from it.”
Commissioner Sue Lee expressed apprehensions with spending the money, noting that the revaluation itself cost the county close to $1 million in 2011.
Johnson said that was about right, at $18 per parcel for Sampson’s 50,000 parcels. Johnson said. That price is expected to exceed $20 per parcel in the future. Should the cycle be shortened to every four years, desktop reviews and flyover technology will become more feasible and “increasingly important,” Johnson noted.
Commissioner Clark Wooten said he concurred with Lee about holding onto funds.
“I’ve heard quite a bit of debate on this. Some people believe it’s an invasion of their privacy, some people believe it might be a tool for you to find more revenue and equipment. Personally, I don’t particularly agree with either one of them,” Wooten said. “I do agree with Mrs. Lee. I’m going to vote against a motion if it’s made, simply because I don’t want to spend the money.”
Wooten said he offered his thoughts with “the utmost respect.”
“The leadership you’ve given in our (tax) department is way beyond what I ever expected,” the commissioner said to Johnson. “You and your department have gone through some tough things, and are going through some tough things, and I applaud how you are doing.”
Parker made a motion to move forward with Johnson’s recommendation, however the motion died for lack of a second.
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