A contract with a company that will take aerial photographs for tax-assessment has nearly taken flight at Spokane County.
On Tuesday, the commissioners tentatively agreed to move forward with a contract with a New York-based company that will take the low-altitude photos on behalf of the county assessor’s office. The work, which would done more quickly and – in some cases – more accurately on the ground, will help Assessor Ralph Baker make up for the loss of seven employees this year in his department due to budget cuts.
Baker has argued that using the aircraft via Pictometry International Corp. makes sense because, instead of having appraisers drive from home to home or business to business, “oblique images” can be captured from different angles to assess property value. For example, if a new deck or outbuilding is added to a home, it can be readily seen from overhead views but not necessarily from the sidewalk.
Baker has said he plans to make the photos available to the public on the county Web site. The information could also be shared with law enforcement and 9-1-1 officials.
The assessor was asked by county commissioners last month to look at his budget to see if there is any way to pay for the program. The price tag for the contract is $180,000 every two years.
Baker said Tuesday that he has identified $20,000 within his 2010 budget for a deposit to move forward with the program this year. However, it would fall on the commissioners to find the additional $89,000 for the remainder of the six-year contract. Baker said, as things stand, he couldn’t absorb that amount in his budget.
“We would have to let someone else go,” he said.
He added that he would like a decision to be made soon, as the first flight will have to take place sometime in April. Aerial photos cannot be taken during the summer months when trees are in full bloom, and the system also doesn’t work well in heavily urbanized areas.
Board Chairman Mark Richard said he hoped county residents wouldn’t be too overly concerned about privacy issues in an age where the Google – and even Spokane County itself – already utilizes aircraft for mapping purposes.
“This is not an invasion of privacy,” Richard said. “Go on the Internet, it’s already taking place.”
Commissioner Todd Mielke said he understood the positives of the program, but added that it still “comes down to money.”
If the commissioners approve the contract, the first flight would be held in April. The matter is expected to be placed on next Tuesday’s commissioners agenda.