A conversion of the Sampson County Tax Office software, its benefits and the public access site it has spawned in recent weeks were put on display Monday even as the project, more than two years in the making, nears completion.
The conversion, designed to improve productivity and customer service, is in its final stages. Rob Howland, project manager for Tyler Technologies, demonstrated a new public care site and walked the Board of Commissioners through the entire conversion process, which began in earnest in mid-2012.
Howland has spent countless hours within the Tax Office helping staff through the conversion process.
“It will probably come to a conclusion within the next 30 to 45 days,” said Howland of the process.
The software upgrade has sought to enhance revenue collection, increase Tax Office efficiency and correct duplicate data entry and errors within the Tax Office’s antiquated system, county staff has said. They said that without double-entry, steps could be cut out and improvements already made, such as the Geographic Information System, could be built upon.
It also has allowed for those real-time tax updates and years of property records to be put out for public consumption, as well as the implementation of a soil classification system by which land assessment disputes may be curbed.
Last year, the Board of Commissioners unanimously approved purchasing the CAMA (computer-assisted mass appraisal) software from Tyler Technologies at an annual cost of $101,000 for six years. The board voted to set aside money to fund the needed software in 2011, budgeting $200,000 in the 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14 to pay for the roughly $600,000 overhaul.
In September 2012, that conversion process began.
“Tyler initially laid out a very detailed timeline and schedule for us to follow and has done a remarkable job of keeping us on task,” said Tax administrator Jim Johnson. “At this point, we’re nearing the end of the process and currently all of our data is being maintained in the new iasWorld (Appraisal and Tax) Software system. Just a few weeks ago, we were able to go public and launch our Public Assessment webpage as well, which we’re very excited about.”
The website contains all real property information including access to property record cards.
At the new site, visitors can search property owners by name and get a listing of parcels, property characteristics, valuation of the land, any buildings on it and the total taxable real estate, as well as any recorded transactions such as sales of the property in the past. Also available are maps, layouts, sketches and photos of the property and buildings on it.
Howland gave an outline of the project, which started with setup during the summer of 2012, followed by conversion review and then a training process in spring 2013. The system went live in May 2013, with the website being activated for the public recently.
Howland said the process has included examining every aspect of the past program and designing a new, updated system that could be easily used and maintained by employees and accessed by the public. That included interviews during May-June 2012 with every member of the Tax Office, asking them what their duties were and what they needed to accomplish their tasks as part of what Howland called a “fit analysis” leading up to implementation.
“From there, we built the system,” said Howland.
After ensuring staff was trained, data was entered and the site was ready, it was put out to the public.
“Having put all your transactions in place and trained your users, we wound up loading up a website that made it possible for the public to now access the iasWorld system and see what’s been happening in the Tax Department with the new software,” said Howland. “The website allows you to access parcels either by name, by address or by the parcel ID if you know it. In addition, anybody accessing the site can print out a property record card which shows the primary attributes of the parcel.”
He pointed to assessing soil type as part of property use value, which was a major topic of discussion before, during and after the 2011 property revaluation and identified as a need in any tax software upgrade.
“I know this was an issue when you made a purchase decision on the software,” said Howland. “There was some discussion about the PUV (property use value) and I was asked right off the bat what can we do to make PUV more equitable for the county. If you have a large tract, you can have anywhere from one to 50 or 60 of these individual component lines showing up as part of a soil valuation. The maps of these soils are generated by the federal government. You can compute the soil values based on these.”
The drawback is that some classifications can be mere slivers of the entire property, making for a incredibly detailed equation. Another option, however, would be to use soil grades, more general class descriptions, rather than breaking every property down by a specific soil type with its accompanying scientific name.
“That greatly simplifies the computation for anybody looking at it from the outside,” Howland said. “So instead of the 24 individual soil components, I have six class components.”
Either way, the county has options when dealing with how to equitably assess land values as part of its next revaluation in 2019.
“That’s a look ahead,” said Howland. “That’s the power you now have.”
During Monday’s presentation, Commissioner Albert Kirby asked whether the new software could be used in a way that would eliminate the perception that land in the southern part of the county is not as valuable as that in the northern part.
“It’s hard to imagine there would be that big of a difference in Sampson County as a whole,” said Kirby, “and those have been some of the biggest complaints when it came to valuation. This should pretty much … deal with value of the land just based on soil type.”
Howland said that was “absolutely” the case.
“As you see, it’s very convenient for the taxpayers to just go out and access this,” Howland said. “All of the information is consolidated and what you see is what you get when you print it out.”
The public care website can be found by going to sampsonlandrecords.com and clicking on “Property records search.” The site gives citizens the ability to obtain all of their real property information, including access to property record cards.
Johnson touted the new site with building on an effort by the county and its tax office to offer more information to the public. Johnson said that first step was taken with the Citizen Self-Serve online bill look-up and pay site, and now with the public assessment webpage, another large stride was being taken.
“When the (Board of Commissioners) approved our software upgrade in mid-2011 we stated that one of the goals was to provide more information to the taxpayers and make it more readily available to them, and I think with this public website I think that’s exactly what we’ve done,” said Johnson.
The impact is expected to be seen in the Tax Office, not only with increased efficiency but decreased traffic.
“You should see calls go down, you should see foot traffic go down,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of positive feedback from banks, appraisers and attorneys as well, being able to access this information themselves from home or their office.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.