Local officials recently agreed to spend close to $400,000 on far more detailed aerial photographs of every parcel of property that’s assessed and taxed through the Mobile County Revenue Commission.
In late December, a $392,266 contract was approved with EagleView Technologies, which will be taking aerial photographs of various sections of the county through February that will be available through software the Revenue Commission’s mapping and appraisal staff will be able to access.
According to Tyler Pritchett, an attorney with the Revenue Commission, the photographs will allow land appraisers to view properties from multiple angles, and the software will include measurement tools that could potentially save time and money on future property appraisals.“It’s not just straight down imagery. They take a picture of the north, south, east and west at a 45-degree angle — like a bird’s eye view of the property,” Pritchett said. “That makes it easy for the mapping and appraisal staff to recognize and interpret what objects and structures might have been added to a property, and they can actually make measurements from their desks.”
Pritchett said up-to-date aerial photographs should help with making basic observations faster than sending a team of appraisers out to physically inspect a property, especially those in “rural areas.” Currently, the Alabama Department of Revenue requires counties to review every property at least once every four years, which can be time consuming.
Baldwin County Revenue Commissioner Teddy Faust Jr. told Lagniappe his department already uses EagleView to photograph at least 25 percent of the county’s properties each year. At this point, it’s still unclear whether Mobile County will used a similar long-term agreement going forward.
“It has saved time, but we’re still going to be right behind the photographs reviewing every property in person,” Faust said. “I don’t think it’s as good as boots-on-the-ground measuring, but if you have people who’ve done a good job, you can easily verify information.”
While Mobile and Baldwin counties have used aerial photography in the past, Faust and Pritchett both cited reduction in cost as a motivation to invest in more detailed photographs.
In Mobile County, that investment has come at the tail end of the state’s efforts to bring up the value of certain properties that didn’t see gradual increases over time. Last July, those changes caught some residents off guard when annual property valuations came with appraisals that were, in some cases, several thousand dollars more than in previous years.
At the time, Glenn Ford, an administrator with the Revenue Commission, told Lagniappe the values “should level off” sometime in 2017 as the state catches up on its equalization efforts.
While the Revenue Commission already maintains a public database of property records that includes interactive maps, it’s unclear at this point if the general public will be able to access to the aerial photographs EagleView will be providing in the coming months.
Claire Foster, a marketing manager for the company, said EagleView gets questions about privacy “quite a bit,” but the company is confident its products are not invasive to the public.
“In our application, you can zoom in quite a bit to see the type of detail that factors into the value of a home, whether it’s a deck, an addition or structural details like angles needed to measure the property’s square footage,” Foster wrote via email. “That said, even with our highest-resolution imagery, you can’t make out a person’s face or a license plate or see inside a window. If a person were captured in an image, you’d be able to make out their gender, at best.”