Osceola County Property Appraiser Achieves Agility with Web GIS

By Matthew DeMeritt, Esri Writer

Osceola County, Florida, is in a unique position. Neighboring the tourist mecca of Orlando, the county collects much of its revenue from property-owning residents who immigrated for the attractions and strong economy. The property taxes that homeowners pay are critical revenue considering that Florida doesn’t collect any income tax (Florida is one of seven states that doesn’t).

With a projected growth of 40,000 residents in the next five years, the Osceola County Property Appraiser’s Office wants to make the most of that additional revenue. To prepare for the increase in parcel edits and quickly create appraisal maps for current and future homeowners, the office transformed its core GIS into a location-based digital solution, reducing parcel editing time by more than half and, in turn, saving money.

Last year, the office realized its eight-year-old GIS would soon experience performance problems that could threaten the accuracy of its appraisal work. With a budget that largely depends on its six percent property tax revenue, the state expected accurate redrawing of parcels for correctly calculating property taxes for the county. Because Osceola County’s parcel data management tools consisted of fragments of software, it couldn’t meet that expectation. The county’s lots, survey framework, subdivisions, and parcels were too disorganized and couldn’t be cleanly maintained. Staff were also using manually updated static paper and PDF maps when residents made map requests. Unable to serve taxpayers with information or share data with other county agencies and offices, the Appraiser’s Office needed a platform that connected all its systems and efficiently communicated appraisal information in live web maps.

Exhausted from duplication of effort, Osceola County Property Appraiser Katrina Scarborough and her team contacted Esri and GIS consultants Bruce Harris and Associates (BHA) for a fix. Esri and BHA conducted a needs assessment which, unsurprisingly, discovered that the county’s parcel data needed a cleaning, including full data standardization.

“Fragmented, unstandardized parcel data is a common problem in many appraisal offices,” said Brandon Harris, BHA. “Updating all parcel data and then converting it into Esri’s standard Local Government Information Model [LGIM] makes that data easily sharable and consumable in any Esri web map.”

Conditioning the data for cartographic expression would prove to be the key for more precise parcel editing at the county.

Esri and BHA also recommended a full implementation of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) ArcGIS for Local Government land records solutions—specialized, preconfigured web maps available in ArcGIS Online that would display the clean LGIM data as feature layers.

“Ready-made apps requiring little configuration eliminated the need to code solutions,” said Harris. “These maps would be the access points for visitors to obtain county property information.”

BHA first created a new site for the appraiser’s office that included a scrollable map gallery. The gallery gives users access to a variety of fast-performing, focused web maps created with ArcGIS for Local Government solutions. Because property value transparency is a critical service in any county, BHA and county staff first created the Residential Property Value Changes map. Based on Esri’s Value Analysis Dashboard template, that map visualizes the impact of sales, foreclosures, and assessment appeals on property values in a neighborhood or tax district. The dashboard juxtaposes three property value maps from three consecutive years for easy comparison.

“That’s the most useful tool we have—it’s easy for citizens to compare the differences in property value that way,” said Scarborough. “If a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine three pictures side by side. That tells a big story about the dynamics of the home market.”

Soon, web maps at Osceola County were being created in a matter of hours rather than weeks. By migrating its paper and PDF maps to live interactive maps, county staff now only have to make applications once; the maps update themselves and render on any device.

Within a few weeks of implementation, Osceola County transformed its core mapping system into an enterprise location-based platform. The county experienced a 50 percent increase in parcel throughput and reduced counter traffic as citizens opted to view web maps instead of calling or visiting the office. By building a more connected and transparent system, the county earned renewed trust and confidence from Osceola County taxpayers.

For saving time and money with GIS, Scarborough and team earned a 2015 Esri Special Achievement in GIS Award.