New Castle News

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October 8, 2013

County’s aerial system finds new construction

NEW CASTLE — Lawrence County has generated tax money through increased property assessments by using an online pictometry system.

The multidimensional aerial photography program, instituted in 2006, picked up $300 million in improved property that had gone unassessed from 1998 through 2006, Lawrence County assistant planning director Allen Miller told members of the Lawrence County Regional Council of Governments last week.

He estimated $20 million worth of unreported unassessed property each year is detected by pictometry. That $20 million of additional assessed valuation nets Lawrence County government an additional $125,000 in property taxes.

School districts and municipalities also would gain in taxes from the increased valuation.

Online pictometry provides a series of multiple angle photos of each property in the county. An online toolbar can measure dimensions.

Pictometry enables the county assessor’s office to detect building additions and other construction it had not known existed, he said.

“You can have multiple images to see all sides. Our assessment office loves that, because they can see if someone has put a porch on their house.”

It also saves the assessment office time from going out to check improvements, he said.

“Changefinder” software allows the county to compare pictures so it shows anything new from the recent flight in a different color, county administrator James Gagliano explained, “enabling the assessment office to make assessed value changes.”

Plus it tips off assessors about who obtained building permits and who did not, he said.

Unlike traditional satellite imagery photographs from the top down, Pictometry’s planes capture high-resolution images at 40- to 45-degree angles, making structures and objects easier to identify, Miller explained.

The county entered a six-year contract with Pictometry, an aerial imagery company from Rochester, N.Y., for $259,438, for the program. The money comes the general fund and revenue from the increased assessed values.

“The state was doing flyovers of the commonwealth, but it was only going to do the western section every few years,” he said. “They never ended up doing the western part, so we went forward on our own.”

Pictometry’s photoimagery has better resolution than what the state offered, Gagliano explained.

Under the contract, planes fly over the county every two years. There have been flights in 2006, 2009 and 2011. Two more are planned — this fall and in 2015, to update photos.

In addition to property assessment, the system can be used in first response, search and rescue, accident reconstruction, emergency management, homeland security, crime scene investigation and SWAT. It also can help 911 operators and first responders visualize properties and guide response teams in dark or storm conditions, Miller said.

As of now, an older program version is available to municipalities, Miller said. The service is free for municipalities and police and fire departments, and users are limited.

Pictometry also is valuable for assessment appeals, he said.

The system is unavailable to the public, but the public can find basic aerial views of their properties on the county’s website at co.lawrence.pa.us.

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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