GIS technology empowered tax department [staff] to take ownership of their data and allowed them to take it to the next level.
Chatham County Expedites Appraisal Process through GIS
Chatham County, North Carolina, had over 46,000 parcels that needed to be properly and accurately assessed. Through geographic information system (GIS) technology, the county pieced together an all-in-one solution for its tax department's recent tax reappraisal process.
Counties are required to regularly undertake general reappraisals. This involves a tremendous amount of tax administration and appraisal work, and once assessed value notices are provided to residents, a reappraisal project becomes a major public relations matter. It became a priority for Chatham County to provide its residents with easy-to-use tools to explore real estate data related to their property, which would allow them to easily appeal the value in the event of a disagreement. Appraisers also needed a comprehensive appeals management platform to efficiently navigate the appeals process.
Rethinking the Appeals Process
To generate the best solution for managing appeals, the tax department reached out to the county's GIS department for a comprehensive solution to visualize, track, and manage comparable sales and appraisal information for its own internal appraisal process. It was important for this solution to be readily available to the residents to improve public transparency, especially when change value notices were sent to them by the tax department. The GIS department accomplished this major assignment by utilizing three integrated ArcGIS Online solutions, using ArcGIS Survey123 for mobile work photo collection and to create a dynamic online tax appeals form. An operations dashboard and Comparable Sales application were then created using ArcGIS Web AppBuilder to visualize and manage field data collected by reappraisal staff and appeals submitted through the online appeals form.
The GIS department began its journey to creating a more functional and transparent platform by developing a Fieldwork Photo Collection tool using Survey123. This application was utilized by contracted reappraisal staff for the collection of current property photos and helped staff organize multiple photos for different parcels. Over 100,000 photos were taken in the field to capture parcel ID and property address information, and the photos were then used for validation purposes if there were data entry errors. This process was important for the assessors since they needed current photos of each property for an accurate change value notice to be sent to residents. Having all the photos in one place made it easier to keep an accurate record of the property reappraisal and improved overall field efficiency.
A tax appeals form was also created using Survey123, for property owners who have the right to appeal the county's assessed value of their parcel. At the beginning of each year, following a countywide reappraisal, all property owners in the county receive a change of value notice, which presents their new assessed value. One of the unique features this form offers, on the internal side, is when appellant information is submitted, it can be filtered through this new form so that duplicate submissions are avoided, reducing the possibility of errors. It is common for people submitting appeals to have a longer waiting process. The form is automatically sent to the assessors who can immediately start working on it, improving the time it takes. The tax department used this dynamic, user-friendly online form to gather appeals submissions from the public, which was then populated into a dashboard application utilized by appraisal staff for appeals management. This way of collecting public information made it easier for the county's appraisal staff, as they could now manage everything in one consolidated place. Within the appeals dashboard, the tax department can see a variety of variables like appeal submissions, assign appeals to appraisal staff, and update appeal statuses in real time.
The Comparable Property Sales mapping application, which launched in 2021 just before change of value notices were sent to residents, informed people of their new tax appraisal value and of the tax appeals process. To support their appeal, appellants can use this tool to easily find sales of properties similar to their own. The more evidence residents can provide to support their appeal, the more justification they have when submitting their appeal form. This interactive comparable sales application, a critical tool that residents can use for their appeals, was launched out of the need for easy access to meaningful sales information.
Improving Productivity and Transparency
Within a few years, Chatham County was able to leverage GIS technology to better serve its residents and optimize its internal workforce more efficiently. Both the appeal form and dashboard that GIS provided the tax department improved customer service and efficiency. Many residents have expressed their satisfaction with this new appeals process. The tax department has also seen an increase in productivity, thanks to the prominent level of transparency that the Comparable Property Sales mapping application was able to provide the residents, as well as the reduced redundancies and time saved because of the Survey123 appeals form.
"The process designed by our GIS department using Esri products provided a visual map outlining the parcels with appeals and the status of the appeals. Staff were able to track all comments and attach all the documents to each parcel, which resulted in time savings when processing appeals. We also experienced a reduction in paper since the appellants were able to upload all documents and complete the online application form," said Jenny Williams, tax administrator, Chatham County.
Now, Chatham County is working on ways it can enhance the solution for the tax department and encourage other departments to utilize GIS technology as well to make their jobs easier. The tax department has continued to use the Esri app solutions and has worked with the GIS department on enhancements that have made the process more efficient overall. The county is taking steps to develop a public tax reappraisal hub site that will work in conjunction with the tax department, which will allow it to promote awareness and transparency in the tax reappraisal process. Chatham County has proven that this repeatable solution is obtainable and can be easily replicated by other county tax departments that are looking to streamline the appeals process.
"In response to the success Chatham County had with the Real Estate Appraisal the Personal and Business Personal Property divisions have requested an online appeals system for their operations. The GIS department is currently in the process of developing similar solutions for them," said Lucian Stewart, applications solutions engineer, Chatham County.