Entities look to add tax value

ESCANABA – In an effort to equally assess property and add revenue to the tax roll, municipalities in Delta County will be participating in an assessment program involving aerial photography.

The county, cities and townships agreed to cooperate in the Unified Tax Assessment and Equalization System as a tool to add more property value to their individual tax base. A program update was presented at the joint governmental meeting held at Escanaba City Hall on Wednesday.

The Missouri-based firm of Allied Information Solutions, or AIS, was hired by the state treasury department to take on the task of photographing the 1,169-square-mile county if all units of government participated.

The project is modeled after a pilot program conducted the last two years in Masonville Township, explained Jim O’Loughlin, AIS president. Unassessed property was recorded on more than one third of the township, increasing property tax revenue by more than 5 percent.

“This project is to make sure everybody is taxed fairly and taxed equally,” O’Loughlin told those attending the joint meeting. “It’s a very efficient way to check and double check what’s on the tax roll.”

The municipalities will submit current assessment information to be paired with high-resolution aerial photographs. Sketches will be made of structures, including additions and new construction, and overlaid onto the photographs, O’Loughlin said.

Depending on the weather this spring, property will be photographed countywide during flyovers in March and April, he said. Municipalities will be provided with side views and direct down views of buildings.

AIS will prepare a list of potential taxable property improvements missing from tax rolls. The project is expected to be completed by Jan. 31, 2014, O’Loughlin added.

Last fall, the Delta County Board of Commissioners accepted a $332,165 grant from the state’s Competitive Grant Assistance Program for the project. The county will match that with $332,165 in local funds, said County Administrator Nora Viau. Townships and cities were not charged to participate in the program. O’Loughlin said, in addition to adding more taxable property to tax rolls, the information could also be valuable for economic development and emergency management purposes. Escanaba City Assessor Daina Norden questioned how each municipality would gain from others using their information.

O’Loughlin agreed the data has value and said he would sign a contract to not sell the information.

“Your local unit data is your local data. We aren’t going to do anything without your permission,” he said.

Miles Anderson, an assessor, brought up concerns he had about the project: no requests for proposals were sent out by the state; no bids were requested; and there was no mention of funds to maintain the program in the future.