Monday, November 29, 2021

Arkansas residents may face taxation by aerial image.

Just as privacy concerns are raised by ACLU and others over drone use in the USA, Quorum Court in Arkansas has approved the use of aerial imagery to collect data on property sizes. Not at the moment from UAS but it does not take much of an imagination to realise they could be used for this service.

Looking at the Pictometry website they are creating products that several UK based companies achieve with sUAS. Pictometry must be chomping at the bit to use lower altitude imagery that can create  higher resolution products.

Currently though Pictometry has flown about 83% of the USA with its fleet of 60 aircraft to gather its collect. No doubt they are looking for a return on their investment with this proposal.

The Pictometry service for tax collection  faced opposition back in 2008

At stake is an untold amount of tax revenue. Cape May County appears to be ground zero on the issue as it was one of the first in the nation to buy into the system, purchasing its first pictures in 2003.

While Van Drew ponders writing a law to limit the uses of Pictometry, Cape May County Tax Administrator George R. Brown III is already using it to adjust assessments on farms. He doesn’t consider it a Big Brother tactic. He calls it “a great assessment tool,” one of many to make sure people pay their fair share of taxes.

“What’s on the books should be enforced, and we have new technology to do that. You compare the photos and find physical changes,” Brown said.

Farmers who are not farming enough of their land could end up with higher taxes. Brown said the next step is to use pictures of residential areas to catch illegal additions and other violations.

Some southern New Jersey tax administrators support the technology while others are wary. Cumberland County Tax Administrator Patricia Belmont, for example, is in no hurry to get Pictometry.

“We like our farmers. We want to keep our farmers here. … They’re just looking to find a dollar where they can,” Belmont said.

Atlantic County Tax Administrator Lois Finifter doesn’t have Pictometry yet, but she said she wants to look into it. She supports Brown’s argument: “It’s a benefit to all taxpayers. If people don’t take out permits, they’re not paying their fair share. Others take out permits, and they’re paying,” Finifter said.

Finifter’s only problem with Brown’s use of Pictometry is he may have relied on it too much. She said if there are questions, a physical inspection of a farm can clear up mistakes.

Brown challenged the assessments of West Cape May farmers Les and Diane Rea, even though the local assessor, Art Amonette, supported the Reas’ farmland-assessment application. Finifter said it should be up to the local assessor and not the county tax board to judge the applications. 

“We don’t do that now, and don’t anticipate we’ll be doing that. We’ll advise assessors but that’s the assessor’s call,” Finifter said.

In Ocean County, Tax Administrator Ozzie Vituscka said the county might use Pictometry but not on farmland. Vituscka said local assessors make that call.

“I don’t know if that’s my responsibility, and I wouldn’t rely solely on one tool. I’m old school. I’d probably go in the field to look. I enjoy visiting farms,” Vituscka said.

Burlington County is just getting Pictometry, and Tax Administrator Marge Nuzzo said she is anxious to use it although she’s unsure if it will be applied to farms.

“I’m really excited about it. I’m just not set up for it yet. It’s a great assessment tool and we’re anxious to get started on it,” Nuzzo said.

Peter Furey, who heads the New Jersey Farm Bureau, said he has no problem with Pictometry just the way Brown interpreted New Jersey’s Farmland Assessment Act and aerial pictures of the Reas’ land. He said the Reas do not have to farm all their land as some can be in permanent pasture, woodland or other related uses.

“It’s less about technology than the apparent introduction of personal interpretation and personal opinion. With old-fashioned or new methods, compliance is compliance. They’re legislating through enforcement practices,” Furey said.

Diane Rea does not know much about Pictometry. She calls it, “a computer thing,” but she said Brown disputed the number of acres of pumpkins growing when the pictures were taken in March.

“We don’t grow pumpkins in March,” Rea said.

She also claimed the Cape May County trespassed on their land to take ground-level pictures to complement their aerial shots.

Bill Crowther, Brown’s field investigator, said he took the ground-level pictures from public roads.

Since the county got Pictometry, it has found a wide range of uses with police, firefighters, zoning and emergency management. The county says tax assessment is one of 15 applications, and its use by Brown to review all 400 or so farms in the county is new. 

“I think what we did was fair,” Brown said. “The kind of review we gave to the Reas we’ll give to every farmland application in the county,” Brown said.

Brown said the Reas are legitimate farmers and taxpayers. One problem, he said, is area farm values are increasing. A farm nearby on Stevens Street recently sold for about $100,000 an acre, he said. Brown is also aware of farms in northern New Jersey being turned into “McMansion estates” that may not deserve lower assessments.

Brown may want assessments to be tied to such market values, but Furey argues the Farmland Assessment Act doesn’t work that way. It was designed to keep New Jersey farmers farming by lowering their tax burden despite what the real estate market was doing, he said, noting how much of the Rea farm is deed restricted against development.

“The tax administrators are bound by existing law and court precedent. There’s been 40 years of precedent. The state tax court is where this belongs,” Furey said.

That’s where the Rea case is heading, to test the legality of Pictometry’s use for tax assessment for the first time.

Images will date quickly though. If after having a quick look on Google earth  suspect earth moving is happening. It might be cheaper to allow the local sherrifs drone to go look and get the latest. It would spread the cost of operating that UAS.

At the moment though regulation hampers UAS use in the USA. There is much media noise suggesting that in January 2012 some sort of simplified FAA procedure will make it easier for local Police forces in the USA to use sUAS.

This seems to be little more than vendor generated noise. Every September for the last three years the same story has raised its head. Nothing has changed. Although a few sheriffs have submitted the current paperwork and have started trials.

A Thales representative at RPAS 201,Shrivenham this year suggested in a vignette that orbits of larger UAS over the UK could be shared by several agencies each agency pulling from the collect what they needed. If a search and rescue task came up then the UAS would deploy exclusively for that. Otherwise it would plod around Southern England looking for change of life activity.

Imagine your  local planning officer having access to your back garden at a moments notice!

With the pullback from Iraq and other spots under way this scenario is much easier to imagine. Perhaps its already happening.

Carroll County News reports

BERRYVILLE — An ordinance paving the way for procurement of aerial photography services was approved by county quorum court members Friday — but only after a lengthy debate.

The ordinance, approved on all three readings due to a time constraint, was questioned because it waived competitive bidding although the wording called for compliance with Arkansas law that requires three companies be considered.

Also called into question was a privacy issue raised by local citizen advocate, Lisa Price-Backs, who claimed Pictometry International, the firm likely to get the contract, is a big outfit with government contacts, including involvement in drone spyware.


Gary Mortimer
Founder and Editor of sUAS News | Gary Mortimer has been a commercial balloon pilot for 25 years and also flies full-size helicopters. Prior to that, he made tea and coffee in air traffic control towers across the UK as a member of the Royal Air Force.