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Geauga County, Ohio, Improves Public Access and Farmland Assessment With GIS
By Lori Spencer, TDC Group, Inc.
Geauga County, Ohio, was established in 1806; by 1813 the population was 7,791. In the 2000 census, the population totaled 90,895 people with approximately 48,000 parcels and a land area encompassing 404 square miles. This county, which was named for the native word raccoon, lies in the northeastern corner of Ohio in the Cleveland area.
The big push to get GIS into the county came when the county auditor had an orthophoto flight done in 1990, with two townships updated in 1994. Later that year, the county sent out its request for proposals for parcel conversion.
When the parcel conversion process at the county was completed, the county GIS coordinator at that time, along with the present GIS coordinator, Lou Marion, knew that what the county really needed was ArcView software to handle the complex tasks it wanted its software to perform. Marion has a bachelor's degree in geography and GIS and a master's in GIS and had worked with Esri products in various labs at school.
"We had a very unique conversion process here," says Marion. "When I came on board eight years ago the county was a complete 'Mac shop.' We made the move to ArcView and ArcInfo and wrote a conversion routine to take the Mac files and produce ArcInfo coverages out of them. The GIS implementation was the catalyst that moved the county into the Intel NT world."
In March of 1998, the county launched its ArcView software-based public access system codeveloped by the county and Esri. The county used Esri's Rent-a-Tech service to jump-start the programming process because it knew that Esri had the expertise to get the job done quickly. The county then took over the application and finished developing the public access system.
Before the county implemented GIS, three or four different departments updated maps; therefore, the chance for errors was high. Now the mapping is all in one place, and the public access system is available to the public in 50 locations throughout the county.
The public access system was such a success throughout the county that it began looking for other GIS software to enhance its operations. The next logical step for the county was to acquire software that would help it perform its farmland assessments. In the state of Ohio, these farmland assessments are known as Current Agricultural Use Value (CAUV) calculations.
The CAUV program was created in 1973 by an Amendment to the Ohio Constitution and was designed to exclusively benefit commercial agricultural production. While enrolled in the CAUV program, farmland is taxed at its agricultural use value instead of its true market value, which is often significantly higher. This is calculated by determining the types and amount of the different soils on the property.
Geauga County currently has 2,100 parcels enrolled in its agricultural value program. To process those parcels, the county would take the hard-copy soil maps and draw in the parcels freehand. A measurement of the approximate acreage of all the different soil types was then determined. Because this was all done manually, there was potential for the assessment to contain incorrect information. Once the county got its public access system up and running, it began doing the calculations digitally through the public access system. The county would bring up the aerial photo, turn on the soils information, and trace around the parcel with the measuring tool. However, this was still considered a "best guess" approach.
Last year, the county received new soils data that did not match the information in the public access system. It decided it needed to upgrade all 2,100 parcels and knew it needed a reliable, efficient system to do this. It chose RedSilo from TDC Group, Inc., of Dayton, Ohio, an Esri Business Partner. TDC and Geauga County GIS personnel originally met at an Esri programming studio session conducted by Esri-St. Louis. Since that time, TDC and county personnel have stayed in touch, exchanging GIS technical information.
RedSilo farmland assessment software is an application set on top of ArcView. It uses ArcView software's spatial processing functions to select and summarize polygon features. The program uses ArcView software's user interface dialog boxes, file read and write functions, and layout printing utilities to allow for standard user process and output results. By using the farmland assessment software, the county can now locate any parcel by typing in the parcel identification number. Once the parcel is located, the parcel is shown with its correct soils and land use polygons and is ready for assessment.
Once the county determines the total acres of a soil type, that acreage is multiplied by the corresponding value for that soil. The additive value of all the soil types found on the property then becomes the new value of the land for taxation purposes while the parcel stays in the CAUV program, or until the soil values change. Only the land that is used for an agricultural purpose qualifies. Prior to acquiring the farmland assessment software, it would take the county 20-30 minutes per parcel to calculate these values, but now the county can gather all of this information digitally with the click of a button and have the values returned in five to 10 minutes.
"We saw TDC's software product as a tool to drive the CAUV process in a quick and efficient manner," says Marion. "It is amazingly fast. I did a 150 parcel calculation in just two minutes."
"This software helped us tremendously with updating the 2,100 parcels," says Roger Durham, Geauga County deputy auditor. "There are only two of us using the program, and we were able to complete about 100 calculations per day. Without it, we would have only been able to complete about 20 per day. So instead of taking us 100 days to do the project, it only took us 20!"
Durham continues, "It would have been so 'painful' to try to do this project without RedSilo; in fact, we wouldn't have done the project at all if we hadn't purchased the software."
Because the county can now assess and return the correct agricultural value results in minutes, it now has the ability to "defend" and explain its calculations to the public. The county can show the public what its use value is or would be within five or 10 minutes, which correlates into tax savings for the public.
Marion explains, "This software has been quite beneficial when dealing with the public. If someone comes in to inquire about their agricultural value calculations, we can give them a cut-and-dry answer immediately."
The county plans to keep moving forward with its GIS endeavors. "Now that the public access system and RedSilo are in place, other departments throughout the county are interested in how GIS can serve their individual departmental needs," says Marion.