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Thursday, Apr. 28, 2016

Quorum Court discusses possible Izard County Assessors Office improvement

Monday, January 16, 2012

Izard County Assessor Tammy Sanders has asked Quorum Court for $36,000 to digitize the county's 31,000 land parcels. Photo by Richard Irby
Izard County Assessor Tammy Sanders needs $36,000 for a project to improve her office, but promises to give most of the money back before the end of the year.

"I've got a deal for y'all," Sanders told Justices of the Peace during the Jan. 3 Quorum Court meeting. "I don't know where else you could get a 90 percent return, guaranteed, in nine months."

Sanders went on to explain that, in recent years, her office has developed computer records showing land parcels which are taxed through assessments.

The Arkansas Geographic Information Office has helped by supplying digital maps of Izard County property through satellite imagery.

Now, under a new state initiative, a company has been contracted to "draw" lines showing where property lines are located, in relation to adjoining properties. Izard County is one of the counties chosen for a 60-40 grant to help pay for the work, under a Parcel Map Grant Program.

Having the tax parcels "digitized" and easily accessible by computer will have many uses, but Sanders said one of the most important relates to more accurate tax assessments.

"The state GIS (Geographical Information System) takes new satellite imagery every year," Sanders explained. "We can place the new images over the mapping system we have right now and it will show us what (improvements) we have not picked up, as far as value, to put on the books as tax dollars. So, it's one way to increase revenue."

"Say, for instance, I build a new barn and don't report that I built it," Judge David Sherrell added. "They (the Assessors Office) look at last year's image of my farm and this year's image and they layer it and see a building that wasn't there (and can add the improvement to the tax rolls)."

Sanders was quick to add the digitizing project would work both ways, reducing a tax assessment if a building was removed from a property. The project will also allow the assessors office to show someone interested in buying a property exactly where the property is located, adjoining property lines and owners, nearby roads and other information.

According to Sanders, the cost for a company to digitize land parcels for Izard County is $90,236. Under the grant the county has been offered, the state will cover 60 percent of the cost, or $54,141.

The county's 40 percent match is $36,000. If Quorum Court appropriates the funds, $32,400 will be returned to the General Fund in December of 2012, when the county gets its "final settlement" of state monies due the county.

"I need the money now and you get a 90 percent return in nine months (through the final settlement)," said Sanders.

Justices of the Peace asked several questions, including what was wrong with the current system the assessors office uses, and whether the improvement would lead to other costs, like new computer software.

Sanders responded that the current computer system, which uses GIS mapping, works well.

The improvement, which will add drawn boundaries to current maps, will just be an additional tool that will allow the office to do a better job of assessing property and serving the public. Sanders also told JPs no new software would be needed, once the new system was completed.

Sanders needs to inform the Arkansas Geographic Information Office by Feb. 20, whether the county has its 40 percent match and is accepting the grant.

Justices of the Peace decided to consider the issue further and vote on the requested $36,000 appropriation at its next meeting, Feb. 7.

"Some counties have already paid to create a digital version of their tax parcels or done it in-house," Shelby Johnson, the state Geographic Information Officer, told The News. "We have been promoting the technology for years, but, thanks to the Governor and the legislature, we were given some money to help some counties (make the improvement)."

A 2010 study recommended the use of state money to help with parcel mapping, because so many counties cannot afford to fund the project themselves.

Johnson said he was not surprised that Izard County was one of the counties awarded one of the 60/40 grants.

"Izard County's grant application was ranked in the top ten," Johnson said. "Tammy Sanders and Tiffany Felton (GIS Coordinator) are really proactive with seeing ways to use mapping technology."

Johnson added, because the assessors office had the ability to map Izard County roads and assign addresses for its 911 system itself, it saved the county thousands of dollars.

According to Johnson, it would cost Izard County about $10 to $15 per parcel, if it hired a private company to do the digitizing of tax parcels. Since his office has funds to assist counties, and went through a bidding process, the cost for the work will be reduced by more than half.

"It used to be that an assessors office had mainly written records, rows and columns, listing property owners, boundaries, school districts and agricultural classifications," Johnson said. "In the last ten years, we have created a statewide automated system to look up real estate information (by computer). Parcel mapping will be an incredible new tool to more quickly locate and deal with real estate in a county."

In other Quorum Court business on Dec. 3, Judge Sherrell declared the District 8 seat held by Justice of the Peace Paul Phipps vacant.

Phipps notified the Judge he could no longer serve because he had moved out of his district. Sherrell will make a recommendation to Governor Mike Beebe, who will appoint a replacement by early February.

The Izard County Historical and Genealogical Society has made a request for space in a county owned facility to display information it has developed concerning county history and families, to help people who are collecting information about their family's genealogy.

Judge Sherrell asked for recommendations from JPs or the public, as the county currently does not have any available space in the courthouse or the old hospital building, which the county owns.

Justices of the Peace approved distributing $3,013 to county schools and soil conservation. The funds come from the Game Protection Fund, which holds money raised through fines collected by Arkansas Game and Fish.

For a second month, Justices of the Peace discussed moving the day of their monthly meeting. JP Glendon Everett has a conflict that makes it difficult for him to attend some meetings, now held the first Tuesday of the month.

The third Thursday of the month was suggested as a new meeting time, but JP Eric Smith would sometimes have a problem attending on that day. Justices decided to continue the discussion at the February meeting, which is scheduled for Feb. 7 at 6 p.m.

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