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Q&A with @MeckCounty Assessor regarding Photography Project #meckbocc

I wrote about my concerns about the assessor’s request for $550 to restart the property photography project here. I am pleased to report that Ken Joyner supplied answers to my questions and some very good reasons for this project that were not mentioned last night.

Before diving in to his answers I’d like to state a couple of things.

First, while I may post opinions on this website, my goal is to present you with facts and data so you can understand what happened (and is happening) with the revaluation. My primary goal for this site is to be a research tool for all citizens of Mecklenburg County. I will report the facts no matter which way they lead.

Second, I realized that while I may have been leaning towards not supporting the photography project request, I think the board voted properly when they approved it. If the assessor’s office is doing a good job then the BOCC shouldn’t micromanage the department. Still, I’m glad some of my questions were asked by commissioner Pat Cotham. $550K is still real money and deserves scrutiny. The commissioners and the public should be able to ask questions about how their money is being spent. I am pleased that the assessor is willing to engage the public and provide answers.

Mr. Joyner has some good points including how these photos can be used by MEDIC to identify a property in case of an emergency. That alone makes the project worth it and the low ongoing cost is far less than I anticipated. I think this is an example of how cut backs had unintended consequences and how the assessor’s office is leveraging  the dissatisfaction with the 2011 reval to make things right.

Q&A over the photography question:

1)      How long will that money last?

The 550k is for a complete Countywide Street Level Imagery Collection of approx.. 5000 linear miles of public road. The collection will take approximately 2 or 3 months. After the Deliverables are made available to County Users, the funds will be complete.

2)      Is this a onetime event to update the sites or will the project be refreshed on a regular basis?

The Funds are for 1 Time Collection, however there will need to be updates with New Construction and major building renovations.

3)      If on a regular basis what do you expect the annual budget needs to be.

The Number can vary, but for yearly budget estimates of $50,000 would be appropriate.

4)      What value does this implicitly add to your department versus a courtesy feature for site visitors?

  • Street level imagery currently embedded in the tax and web system date primarily from around 2000. Many buildings have been added, modified or demolished since that time. These stale images are replicated on county websites and often bring taxpayer commentary about their currency.

  • Current street level imagery could be very helpful in identifying needs for data correction or collection as part of assuring data integrity for valuation purposes. This will benefit present year valuations and those of future revaluation. Data integrity will be particularly important to ensure confidence for regression analysis.
  • For in office appraisal modeling (valuation process) it helps ensure we have correctly identified the structure and also helps in identifying like structures (the photo is a great way of verifying what the structural characteristics have identified as like properties within a neighborhood)
  • Very helpful in the appeals process for both citizens as they look for comparable and our staff as they both develop and review comparability information on appeals
  • As we continue to update it helps verify, for citizens, that we have physically visited the property
  • Will drastically reduce field visits (time savings and less fuel consumption by staff)
  • Makes valuations more accurate


Further comments from the assessor:

You also cannot look at the decision without looking at the benefits that other government agencies gleen from the purchase.  MEDIC uses the images on calls and having current images can increase response time.  In addition CMPD, the Sheriff’s Department, CMUD, LUESA, etc. are all users.  I hope this information is helpful.


Thank you very much to Ken Joyner for talking the time to fill in the blanks.

Assessor to ask for $550,000 to update property photos

Ken Joyner, the new Mecklenburg County tax assessor is looking to improve service at the tax office.  Wednesday night he will ask the BOCC for permission to dip in to a restricted fund that they have set aside for him. Basically, the BOCC set aside $1.8 million for the assessor to improve things but he has to ask permission before he can spend it.

Mr. Joyner is looking at putting back staffing and to restart a photography program where a photo will be taken of each property in the county and placed online. I don’t know the details but if your property is older than a few years then there’s probably a photo already online. These photos are shown on Polaris and Real Estate Lookup.

Updating this service was discontinued several years ago and if when you view the photos on Real Estate Lookup you get the following disclaimer:

                          Due to Budget cuts the images will no longer be maintained.

Mr. Joyner is working to put back a lot of things that were taken away from the department due to budget cuts. It’s important to remember this because the photos are literally a picture that shows that the prior management chose to reduce staff and features and knew this ahead of the 2011 reval. In addition to the photography project the assessor is asking for beefed up staffing. Here’s a breakdown of the request:


Appropriate $738,000 from restricted contingency for the Streel-Level Photo Imagery project and four positions with associated expenses in the Assessor’s Office
At its July 2, 2013 meeting, the Board of County Commissioners placed $1,800,000 in restricted contingency for the County Assessor’s Office to be appropriated by the Board upon receipt of sufficient justification that the funds would be used to support critical projects in the Assessor’s Office.  Of this total, $1,062,000 was appropriated by the Board at its August 6, 2013 meeting. County Manager Dena Diorio requests that the Board appropriate $738,000 for the following items:
1)  Street Level Photo Imagery – This project will allow current street-level photography for property records. This will replace the outdated photos on the POLARIS website and other GIS applications to provide more current information for property valuation — $550,000
2)  2 Personal Property Auditors and 2 Administrative Support staff  – $166,050
3)  Expenses associated with 4 positions – $21,950

I am all for the staffing. Mr. Joyner has pointed out that the public deserved better service than what they got with the 2011 reval that caused 40K appeals. The previous assessor knew that was going to happen. He worked with far less staff than in previous reviews which meant that more work was done by computer based mass appraisal methods versus in the field visits. The idea was to educate the public by asking them  to check their property cards. This would give them a chance to to inform the county if your property had characteristics that were not common in your neighborhood. If you didn’t then you got mass appraised like everyone else and had a chance to appeal and of course lots of people did. This method means you pay for it on the back end both in terms of dollars and time but also on customer service.

I support increasing staff and not piling on at the end and having to fix it. There’s nothing wrong with getting it right the first time. However, I question if it is a good idea to spend so much money on photography especially when Google is doing a lot of this work already through their Maps Street View.

When I look at my property on Polaris I see one photo. I question the value of this and how it will be used to increase efficiency and customer satisfaction. If the county is not going to use that photo as part of the formula for providing service then it just ends up as window dressing. $550K is more than 1/4th  of the total allotted restricted fund. As a public records researcher I like the photos because I can download them and make pretty web pages but that isn’t a good enough reason to go forward with that part of the project. Also, if the photos are going to be ongoing value then the assessor needs to update these photos on a regular bases.

There isn’t enough info in Tuesday night’s Agenda to be sure, but the board at least needs to ask if this is a recurring, permanent project and if so how long will that $550K last and how much will it cost to keep it going? If it’s just to fill in the blanks then I think it would be best to skip it and hire more support staff if needed.

Our taxes were raised in part because of the 2011 reval and I don’t think this is a justified way to spend that money. I’ll keep my mind open but right now I’m leaning towards “no”.

This is how Google does it. In addition to this above shot, you can go to street view and see what the Google car picked up.

Upcoming Tax Assessor Appearances

Mecklenburg County tax assessor Ken Joyner will be a speaker or guest at three upcoming events. These are listed on the Calendar .

In addition, this coming Tuesday there will be agenda items regarding the assessor’s department where he will ask to spend restricted funds to hire additional staff and revamp staffing and restart the photography program to update Polaris and other websites.

The BOCC meeting will be held on the 21st with public session starting at 6pm. Agenda links are on the calendar. Joyner will appear at the Matthews (agenda link on calendar) town meeting on the 27th and Pineville on 2/11.

Matthew Ridenhour’s town hall is on the 29th and both the assessor and new county manager will be guests. Event is at the Morrison regional library.

The Herald Weekly – Property values under review

This is a really good article in the Herald Weekly about the assessor appearing before the Davidson county commissioners last week. A must read.

DAVIDSON – Over the next 18 months, a few Mecklenburg County homeowners will be getting a check in the mail reflecting a refund from their property value being calculated too high in 2011. But county assessor Ken Joyner reiterated to Davidson commissioners Jan. 14 that not every property will have a reassessment in the owners’ favor.

via The Herald Weekly – Property values under review.