Butler County Streamlines Appraisal Workflows Using GIS
Comprehensive Appraisal Modernization with Web GIS
Butler County, Kansas (population 67,000), is the largest county by area in the state and has a diverse mix of land uses, ranging from city suburbs and small towns to rural agriculture and oil fields.
Geographic information system (GIS) technology has been a critical tool for appraisers in Butler County for a long time. With the deployment of ArcGIS Enterprise in 2021 and the recent expansion of GIS into other departments within the organization, GIS director Pamela Dunham and county appraiser Debra Studebaker recognized there were additional opportunities to use existing tools to streamline workflows and work more efficiently in the appraiser's department. Working with GIS analyst Mark Schmidt, they developed a strategy for modernizing the way appraisers utilize the county's authoritative property information.
Navigation of Workflow Challenges
In the past, to visualize neighborhood and sales characteristics outside of the computer-assisted mass appraisal (CAMA) system, called Orion, an appraiser would ask GIS staff to make specific neighborhood or sales maps. These maps were manually created upon individual request and printed so that they could be reviewed by appraisers. This caused delays for the appraiser, consumed hours of technical staff time to generate, and resulted in static paper maps that were soon out-of-date and needed to be re-created each time new analysis was required.
Another time-consuming issue for Butler County appraisers is that they are mandated to revisit all residential and commercial properties every six years. Also, agricultural property is reviewed every year to verify that no change of land use has occurred. Due to the size of Butler County, it can take over an hour to drive from one side of the county to another. The appraiser needed a better way to manage field staff to ensure that they meet annual statutory requirements.
Technology That Appeals to Taxpayers and Is Praised by Appraisers
Using ArcGIS Enterprise to connect to the Orion database, the GIS department configured the Butler County Neighborhood Analysis and Sales Analysis tools. These new Web GIS tools enabled appraisers to visualize property characteristics by neighborhood with data from the CAMA system. Appraisers have access to the tools anytime and have confidence that they are always making decisions based on the current data. These new Web GIS tools not only saved the appraisers time in their initial valuation efforts but also have proved to be valuable during informal appeals and inquiries from taxpayers.
Prior to the new Web GIS tools, the appeals process was very reactionary, with no easy way to prepare data ahead of time and provide metrics to justify or better understand appeal requests. Historically, an informal appeal would be just a review of property characteristics. Any in-depth analysis was performed after a meeting with the property owner. With the Neighborhood Analysis and Sales Analysis tools, appraisers can quickly review comparable properties within the same neighborhood to defend valuations. Studebaker said, "Valuation and hearing decisions were made more timely and efficiently. We have these tools open every day and use them all the time. A visual versus a spreadsheet made all the difference." Residential appraisal services supervisor Paula Self said, "We no longer have to run queries for every individual hearing; at a glance we can determine comparable sales and identify outliers in homogenous neighborhoods."
Out with the Old, In with the New
Prior to using GIS-based workflows, the appraisal staff relied on paper forms to record data in the field. Back in the office, supervisors would manually enter the property characteristics into the CAMA system. Once the system was updated, the chief appraiser could run reports on how many properties had been visited. The manual process of converting paper forms into digital reports was inefficient and time-consuming for appraisal and GIS staff and required recalculation every time appraisers needed a progress update. Dunham was familiar with the process and knew firsthand just how time-consuming it was. Knowing there had to be a better way, she turned to Schmidt, who designed a modern GIS solution.
The GIS department used ArcGIS Field Maps to configure a simple mobile application for staff to fill out when they completed a field assessment. Appraisers open the app, which automatically zooms to their location. They determine if a property is residential or commercial, flag the property data collection as complete, and move on to the next property. The information updated in the field automatically feeds a dashboard—created using ArcGIS Dashboards—for appraiser supervisors to track how many properties field staff have visited and how the department is tracking toward meeting the state annual statutory requirement. The capability to have maps with target properties and their status helps appraisers keep track of the properties to visit and has resulted in savings including, at a minimum, one hour of supervisor staff time daily and the cost of producing paper maps. Previously, supervisors would manually check in work performed in the field, measure production per employee, and update spreadsheets to track progress. Now they use the dashboard to see the progress daily or weekly or as a total.
A Solution for Appraising Agricultural Properties
Every other year, the Butler County appraiser's office is required to review the use of all agricultural properties in the county to determine if there have been any changes to a property's agricultural function that could impact classification or valuation. Prior to using GIS, the appraiser's staff would mail surveys to the approximately 8,000 agricultural property owners and then physically visit all properties that did not return the survey. With only a 40 percent response rate, this meant many properties required field staff to visit every year, resulting in many hours of field time and resources consumed by appraisers. To help save time and costs, the GIS department configured a solution for the appraiser.
Using configurable GIS web applications with two consecutive years' imagery, the GIS department configured a web application to help appraisers determine if there were any agricultural use changes. Staff could then flag properties that needed closer inspection and required field appraisers to visit in person. In the first year of implementing this solution, out of the 4,500 properties that were reviewed in the office with imagery, 4,300 were determined as being consistent with the previous year's agricultural use and did not require a site visit. This in-office analysis determined that only 200 properties needed to be visited, resulting in a savings of approximately five weeks of staff time between the preparation of data, manual tracking, and the actual review of each parcel.
The Move to Taking GIS and Running with It
With the new web-based maps, mobile applications, and dashboards, the GIS department, Dunham, and Schmidt recognized the need to develop a one-stop-shop repository for all authoritative appraisal workflows and applications. The deployment of the Butler County Appraisers internal web page means that appraisers only have one destination for all their authoritative content and applications. Staff have the confidence that they are always accessing the most current information. The management of the site content is easy for the GIS department because it is the same workflow that staff use for ArcGIS Enterprise in other departments.
Butler County's growing use of core technology ensures that all users in the county who need access to authoritative data and content, like the appraisal staff, can have it, with the confidence that they are always using the most current information.