Pondering Pictometry

Commissioners discuss photo project that would aid several departments

Warren County is on the cusp of making a $200,000 investment that will transform how some county departments do business.

It’s called pictometry – oblique aerial photography taken from low-flying airplanes, with the photos taken at an angle rather than looking straight down.

The topic was at the heart of Monday’s Warren County Commissioners work session.

Commissioner Cindy Morrison, who led the charge on the issue, said she has been working with county department heads and with a representative from the firm EagleView, which provides the service.

The end result is an agreement that will be before the commissioners at their next meeting.

Morrison said that 50 of the 67 counties in Pennsylvania utilize pictometry.

Discussion then shifted to how the aerial photography would benefit the county

Morrison said it would assist assessment staff in the field by identifying fences, gates and unsafe areas as well as alert them to structure not accessible as well as new construction that has yet to be appraised.

She also outlined public safety implications, increased “situational awareness” of the locations of doors and windows at structures as well as terrain hazards.

Additional implications were laid out for Planning & Zoning, Tax Claim as well as other county entities – non-profits, the school district – that will be given access to the images.

“I can see several advantages,” County Planner Dan Glotz said. “My department uses a lot of GIS that is out there.”

He said that the images would allow for more accurate mapping as well as more efficient and accurate flood plain determinations.

Chief Assessor Karen Beardsley said that the program is “what we do. We have a permitting problem.”

She said that it’s not people not wanting to get a permit but rather not being sure if one is needed.

“(There are an) awful lot of properties that have structures we know are not accessed.”

“We’re not out to get anyone,” she added. “We want to make it fair for everyone.”

She also outlined how the program would save money for her department.

“Fewer feet on the ground will save money,” she said, noting that should the county embark on a re-assessment this “will cut down on the cost of a re-assessment significantly. A lot of the work for a re-assessment will already by done at a cost savings enormous to the county.”

Beardsley said she was “pretty excited” about the possibilities, noting that they have been looking at this program for over 10 years.

She said that, if approved by the commissioners, that flights over the county could start as soon as February or March.

“This has potential to generate revenue,” Morrison added.

Beardsley suggested that the program would likely pay for itself within two to three years.

Emergency Management Director Todd Lake said that the pictures that the 911 Center uses now are dated back to 2003.

“Right now, if there is a 911 call at Walmart, when it populates, there’s just a field.”

He said that law enforcement at the local, state and federal level could use the images in their planning.

“For those agencies to be able to help protect the citizens of Warren County is phenomenal,” said.

Concerns were raised about privacy but Lake said that “even though these images are so much clearer than they have ever been, they are still not to the point where face recognition” is possible.

Beardsley said that any faces, addresses or visible license plates would be blurred.

Morrison said that of the options available, she suggested that the county pursue the highest photo quality as well as an add-on software that will “help assessment find properties not on the tax rolls.”

She said funding would be coming from multiple sources – $35,000 from Emergency management, $60,000 from the Records Improvement Committee as well as other areas – such as a payment in lieu of taxes agreement with the federal government – that netted additional funds.

“We know we can pay for the project,” she said, noting that she given a price on Monday that was $4,000 lower than the initial quote of $200,795 to be paid over three years.