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National Land Parcel Data: A Vision for the Future 3 Needs and Benefits Land parcel information provides a geographically referenced inventory of the use, ownership, and value of real property. The information stored with each land parcel can be used to generate a countless variety of maps and tables that display and summarize property values, land use, tax revenues, and ownership. In conjunction with other geographically registered information the parcel data provide a basis for calculating various measures such as property values for assessment, insurance risk, school attendance zones, and transportation planning. In a contemporary local government, land parcels form the basis for sound decision making. Having land parcel data in digital form not only allows for easier access and use of the data, but has other major benefits as well. It allows parcel data from different land managers within the same jurisdiction, or from neighboring jurisdictions, to join their respective land parcel information, providing for integrated and consistent maps of larger regions. This also facilitates the process of identifying and reconciling differences in boundary delineation. Likewise, nationally integrated land parcel data have benefits over individual parcel data sets. For example, they allow the data to be easily used for many other applications, such as emergency response or regional economic development and planning. This chapter describes the needs for and benefits of a national land parcel data program for various entities. The National Research Council (NRC) report Procedures and Standards for a Multipurpose Cadastre (NRC, 1983) identified a list of benefits to different groups (or stakeholders) of a national multipurpose cadastre (Box 3.1). This list divided the users into local, state, and federal governments; private companies; and individuals. The list of benefits was remarkably comprehensive and remains relevant today. Combining land parcel data from various land managers into integrated land parcel maps for a jurisdiction, region, or the entire United States has benefits and uses above and beyond the original purpose for which the data were created. In order to reassess the needs and benefits of national land parcel data and determine whether there is additional insight to be added to what was provided in the NRC reports of the 1980s, the committee used several information-gathering methods. First, in order to talk directly with the agencies, businesses, and organizations involved in the production and use of land parcel data, the committee held two public meetings to gather input. The first meeting consisted of presentations by the sponsors of the study, including the Bureau of Land Manage-
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National Land Parcel Data: A Vision for the Future BOX 3.1 Some of the Potential Benefits of a Multipurpose Cadastre to Each of the Major Types of Users Potential Benefits to Local Governments Assures that the best available data are used in each public transaction Avoids conflicts among land records of different public offices Improves accuracy of real-property assessments Provides base maps for local planning and preliminary engineering studies Provides a standardized data base for neighborhood, municipal, county, or regional development plans Avoids costs of maintaining separate map systems and land-data files Encourages coordination among separate map systems affecting land Improves public attitudes toward administration of local government programs Potential Benefits to State Governments Provides accurate inventories of natural assets Provides accurate locational references for administration of state regulations such as pollution controls Accurately locates state ownership or other interests in land Provides a standardized database for management of public lands Provides large-scale base maps for siting studies Simplifies coordination among state and local offices Potential Benefits to the Federal Government Provides a flow of standardized data for updating federal maps and statistics, e.g., for the federal censuses Provides a database for monitoring objects of national concern, e.g., agricultural land use and foreign ownership of U.S. real estate Provides a reliable record of the locations of federal ownerships or other interests in land Provides standardized records for managing federal assistance to local programs such as housing, community development, and historic preservation Potential Benefits to Private Firms Produces accurate inventories of land parcels, available as a public record Produces standard, large-scale maps that can be used for planning, engineering, or routing studies Speeds administration of public regulations Potential Benefits to Individuals Provides faster access to records affecting individual rights, especially land title Clarifies the boundaries of areas restricted by zoning, wetland restrictions, pollution controls, or other user controls Produces accurate maps that can be used for resolving private interests in the land Reduces costs of public utilities by replacing present duplicative base-mapping programs Improves efficiency of tax-supported government services as described earlier in this table SOURCE: NRC, 1983, p. 17.
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National Land Parcel Data: A Vision for the Future ment (BLM), Census Bureau, Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI). The second meeting was a Land Parcel Data Summit held on May 23, 2006, at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. The summit consisted of structured presentations from 15 invited speakers who made formal responses to a set of questions and then participated in a question-and-answer session. The agenda and list of speakers are included in Appendix C. The speakers came from federal government agencies that had not been covered by the first meeting, the private sector, and professional organizations that represent a variety of parcel data producers and users. The summit provided an excellent opportunity to ascertain a current perspective on the need for and benefits of a national perspective on land parcel data. It also provided a forum for the exchange of ideas and interests among different user groups. The second method of gathering information was a web-based forum of stakeholders to assess their views regarding the needs and benefits of nationally integrated land parcel data. Participants in the online forum consisted of a wide range of stakeholders and professionals from the field who decided to participate and provide feedback on this topic. Table 3.1 shows the range of professions among the respondents. Box 3.2 lists the questions asked of the stakeholders. The input from the approximately 400 respondents provided an extremely beneficial synopsis of the perceived need for a national vision for land parcel data. Although many users were skeptical about how such a system would operate, there was a fairly consistent message that there would be substantial benefits, that this was a necessary function of intergovernmental cooperation, and that it is the right time to move ahead with system design and implementation. While the needs and benefits TABLE 3.1 Representative Job Titles from Web-Based Stakeholder Forum Addressing Coordinator GIS Department Manager Administrator GIS Land Records Supervisor Appraiser II GIS Specialist—Property Tax Assessor GIS State Coordinator Assistant Assessor Real Estate Health Officer GIS Assistant Director of Community Development Information Systems Director Assistant Planning Director IT Director Auditor Land Information Officer Biological Scientist Land Records Manager Cadastral Industry Manager Landscape Modeler Hydrologist Cadastral Planner Management Information System, GIS Director Cadastral Surveyor Mapping Supervisor Cartographer Planner-GIS Coordinator Chief County Assessment Officer Program Manager Chief Technical Officer Property Lister County Auditor Real Property Lister County Surveyor Register of Deeds Director of Information Technology (IT) Research Scientist E 911 Mapping Coordinator Right-of-Way Technician Engineer-Zoning Administrator Senior Land Records Analyst Environmental Analyst State Geodetic Adviser Epidemiologist State Property Mapper Geographer Tax Assessor-Zoning Official Geographic Information Officer Program Manager Transit—GIS Planner Geographic Information System (GIS) Administrator-Developer Vice President-Corporate GIS Manager GIS Analyst Warm Water Habitat Development Consultant GIS Database Administrator
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National Land Parcel Data: A Vision for the Future BOX 3.2 Subset of Stakeholder Questions In the United States, a nationally integrated system of land records is Necessary? Technically feasible? Economically feasible? Timely? What do you see as the major benefits to your organization that would result from the creation of a nationally integrated system of land records? What do you see as the major benefits to the nation that would result from the creation of a nationally integrated system of land records? What do you see as the major obstacles that inhibit the creation and maintenance of a nationally integrated system of land records? Have you or your organization quantified the impact, cost, users, or benefits of digital parcel information or a nationally integrated system of land records in your jurisdiction? Have you been impacted by incorrect or incomplete information about your property? Do you have any overarching concerns or support regarding the premise of a nationally integrated system of land records? Do you have any ideas, opinions, or concerns about the regulation of or regulated controls on a nationally integrated system of land records? Do you have any ideas, opinions, or concerns about how a nationally integrated system of land records should be organizationally structured? Do you have any ideas or opinions about the source of funding (for initial collection and/or ongoing maintenance) of a nationally integrated system of land records? are much the same as those outlined by the panel in 1983, the clearly identified needs relating to disaster preparedness and response bring a new sense of urgency to the issue. The following sections summarize the information learned from these information-gathering processes about the needs for and benefits of national land parcel data at the present time to the various groups listed in Box 3.1. 3.1 FEDERAL AGENCY NEEDS AND BENEFITS A useful starting point for assessing the federal government need for a land parcel program is to examine each of the benefits articulated in Box 3.1 to assess whether it remains relevant in the current context. Federal Benefit 1—Provides a flow of standardized data for updating federal maps and statistics, e.g., for the federal censuses.
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National Land Parcel Data: A Vision for the Future Assessment—Under the FGDC implementation of Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-16 the Census Bureau is the designated federal custodian for government units. This role is linked directly to its requirement to conduct the decennial census of population and housing. In order to fulfill these missions the bureau must obtain information about the location of residential dwellings in relationship to streets and other features. It obtains this information from local government and through its own programs. In preparation for the 2010 Census it is making significant improvements to the positional accuracy of the street files and is creating a point-level representation of residential structures. Each of these needs relates directly to parcel data being maintained by local governments. Representatives from the Census Bureau reported at the Land Parcel Summit that parcel data are critical for determination of boundaries of incorporated areas. The following comment from the web forum also highlights the need: The Census Bureau uses a wide variety of sources to research addresses and update address ranges in our TIGER [Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing] mapping system to allow us to geocode addresses. Parcel data is one of our primary sources. A key piece of information in property records is the property owner’s mailing address. However, we need the site address to determine precise addresses of each parcel. Many localities have online parcel information. Coverage and design is inconsistent. Having one spot to go to for address information for parcels would improve efficiency immensely. (Comment from web forum: David Wiggins, Geographer, U.S. Census Bureau, Charlotte, N.C.) Federal Benefit 2—Provides a database for monitoring objects of national concern, e.g., agricultural land use and foreign ownership of U.S. real estate. Assessment—There are several pieces of legislation that require the federal government to maintain an inventory of its real property (listed later in Chapter 5). Also the Department of Agriculture has established a common land unit to define an agricultural parcel. The U.S. Forest Service is using the National Integrated Land System (NILS) to display property it is offering for sale. Federal Benefit 3—Provides a reliable record of the locations of federal ownerships or other interests in land. Assessment—BLM is the designated custodian for federal land ownership. There are several federal programs that mandate an inventory of federal lands. BLM and the Forest Service are implementing the National Integrated Land Information System to meet these needs. Federal Benefit 4—Provides standardized records for managing federal assistance to local programs such as housing, community development, and historic preservation. Assessment—A representative from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) told the committee at the Land Parcel Summit that HUD has recently acquired parcel data for the Gulf Coast to support hurricane recovery as well as long-term needs. This may be the single best example of a federal agency specifically developing a long-term program based on acquiring parcel-level data from local government. A quick analysis would suggest that each of these four benefits identified by the 1983 study has increased in importance. The committee also analyzed the current needs of specific agencies for parcel data. Federal agencies fall into three categories based on how they use land parcel data. One group manages land across the states. A second group manages the land records of others, both federal
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National Land Parcel Data: A Vision for the Future agencies and Indian tribes. The third group uses local parcel data for various programmatic activities. All would benefit from easy access to parcel data but are often unable to do so because of the limited availability of those data and the lack of a standard format. The BLM and U.S. Forest Service are examples of agencies that manage land. In these cases, there is difficulty in reconciling property boundaries with those of private sector neighbors. This can be a major problem when there is a need to build new facilities, respond to fires, or just communicate with neighbors. The BLM and Forest Service are developing NILS, which they hope to operate in partnership with states, counties, and private industry. The federal government is the largest land manager in the United States and thus, like any land manager, needs parcel information to properly manage its land, as described by this respondent to the web forum: We constantly get calls to look into potential trespass onto federal or Indian Trust lands. If we had a complete land records database it would be easier to identify and resolve these types of problems. (Comment from web forum: John Sroufe, Cadastral Chief, BLM Cadastral Survey, Alaska) Because the federal government is the largest land manager, it stands to gain the most from a national land parcel data set. However, since federal lands are managed by many different agencies, there are still issues with integration of land parcel data across agencies, as typified by this comment: From a federal taxing/funding view it appears that many agencies and offices have created stand alone title and survey (land tenure) recordkeeping systems, this trend seems to be growing, and seems ripe for consolidation resulting in increased efficiencies and cost savings. A citizen or an agency should not have to visit each individual federal agency and office to determine the extent of the federal interest in land in an area, that should be one stop. (Comment from web forum: Anonymous) Two agencies that are examples of federal organizations responsible for managing land records are the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians. The GSA was given responsibility in 2004 under Executive Order 13327 to create and manage a centralized real property database of federal buildings. While this will allow the federal government to know something about the land it owns, it still excludes public domain and other land. The Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians manages trust and allotment land records across the country; at the Land Parcel Summit, the representative from that office told the committee he felt that local reservations needed better control of their own land records to support needed economic development. The needs of the two agencies are different, but both could benefit from easy access to local land records across the country. Examples of federal agencies that need parcel data in order to carry out their missions are described below. Since federal agencies have responsibilities in all parts of the nation, each agency may need parcel data in many different parts of the country. In many cases, in the absence of complete nationwide land parcel data, the agencies have begun collecting parcel data to meet their specific needs, as described further in Chapter 4. HUD The 1983 NRC report suggested that a major benefit from a national partnership for assembling parcel data would derive from having a standardized set of records for managing federal assistance to local programs (see Box 3.1). The most direct and long-standing regulations and assistance requirements are related to HUD. As noted earlier, a previous NRC report, GIS for Housing and Urban Development, recommended that HUD create an urban spatial data infrastructure that includes parcel-level data (NRC, 2003b, p. 46). Parcel-level reporting would help HUD meet many of its strategic goals, such as increasing home ownership opportunities, promoting decent affordable housing, and ensuring equal opportunities in
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National Land Parcel Data: A Vision for the Future housing. These goals are accomplished through an extensive range of grant programs that are organized into the following categories.1 Community Planning and Development (21 programs) Housing—Federal Housing Administration Single-Family Housing Programs (17 programs) Regulatory Affairs and Manufactured Housing (3 programs) Multifamily Housing Programs (17 programs) Public and Indian Housing (15 programs) Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (7 programs) Policy Development and Research (3 programs) Government National Mortgage Association (Ginnie Mae) (4 programs) Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control HUD also operates an Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight that has the specific mission to promote housing and a strong national housing finance system by ensuring the safety and soundness of Fannie Mae (Federal National Mortgage Association) and Freddie Mac (Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation).2 Effective management of these programs requires the property information included in parcel data. While HUD has had long-standing programmatic needs for parcel-related data, the 2005 hurricane season thrust the federal oversight of housing issues into a new arena. In 2006, HUD was tasked by Congress with developing long-term housing assistance to Gulf Coast communities attempting to rebuild after Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma, to which it has responded by collecting parcel data in the impacted communities. The existence of national land parcel data would provide HUD with data it needs for effective management of grants and would have avoided the critical time wasted gathering parcel data piecemeal in the wake of these recent hurricanes. DHS In 1983 the United States had not lived through the events of September 11, 2001, the 2004 wildfire season, or the 2005 hurricane season. The need for federal emergency managers to have ready access to accurate and current information to prepare for and respond to disasters and acts of terrorism has been highlighted by these recent events. In the wake of September 11, 2001, the FGDC published a white paper titled “How GIS and Mapping Technology Can Save Lives and Protect Property in Post-September 11th America,” which emphasized the need for current geospatial data, including property ownership information, for emergency response.3 This need was clearly articulated by DHS at an open meeting of the committee (Davis, 2006): Parcel data is the fundamental building block for all geographic analysis and serves as the raw material for most applications—most geographic analysis benefits from the ability to understand the result at the parcel level. A multipurpose cadastre enables a vast range of location-based services that will improve safety and increase efficiency of current operations. Local parcel data were still being sought eight weeks into the response to Hurricane Katrina. Impact from most disasters is best understood at the parcel level. 1 See HUD Grant Programs at http://www.huduser.org/resources/hudprgs/ProgOfHUD06.pdf [accessed June 13, 2007]. 2 See http://www.ofheo.gov/. 3 See http://www.fgdc.gov/library/whitepapers-reports/white-papers/homeland-security-gis/ [accessed June 13, 2007].
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National Land Parcel Data: A Vision for the Future GIS is becoming the way disasters are managed. A common operating picture depends on an available multipurpose cadastre. National response centers such as Interagency Modeling and Atmospheric Assessment Center depend on the availability of local data for accurate hazard predictions and health recommendations such as shelter in place. Most DHS programs depend on geographic data that are at the parcel scale—for example, Critical Infrastructure Program. The DHS needs provide a sound basis for wall-to-wall nationwide parcel-level data. Natural disasters include such varying events as hurricanes, tropical storms, floods, severe weather, blizzards, fires, Nor’easters, ice, heavy waves, drought, or freezes. Disasters can occur anywhere in the country and often cross multiple jurisdictions. The importance of parcel data for all phases of federal disaster management is echoed in the recent NRC report Successful Response Starts with a Map: Improving Geospatial Support for Disaster Management (NRC, 2007, p. 36), which concluded: Land-parcel data, one of the framework themes, are essential in managing disasters and in assessing damage, along with building footprints and the locations of infrastructure (power, telecommunications, water, sewage, and steam-heating networks). However, it also notes that the primary issue is as follows (NRC, 2007, p. 90): Data on the ownership of land parcels, or cadastral data, provide a particular and in some ways extreme example of the problems that currently pervade the use of geospatial data in emergency management. Vast amounts of such data exist, but they are distributed among tens of thousands of local governments, many of which have not invested in digital systems and instead maintain their land-parcel data in paper form. As with many other data types, it is not so much the existence of data that is the problem, as it is the issues associated with rapid access. The FGDC Subcommittee for Cadastral Data has conducted several in-depth studies that document the importance of parcel data in disasters, such as Parcel Data and Hurricane Isabel: A Case Study, which reached the following conclusions (Stage and von Meyer, 2004): Parcel data provides intelligence to maps and imagery providing information about land ownership, property values, structures, and land use. Integration of parcel data with other data sets and land characteristics provides a rich and stable data source. Parcel data must be published in a format to meet national and local emergency response needs. The use of parcel information must be integrated into emergency response protocols. Develop programs to promote parcel data automation and maintenance in less urban areas. Therefore, it is clear that parcel data are vital to emergency management operations. The development of national, integrated land parcel data is necessary if DHS is to utilize parcel data effectively. To meet these needs the DHS Geospatial Management Office is developing a Geospatial Data Model that provides details about how to ingest local government parcel-level data that include an extensive set of attributes, including parcel-related data (see Chapter 4 for a more detailed discussion). U.S. Forest Service There is a significant demand for parcel data by the U.S. Forest Service in its efforts to combat forest fires. The Rapid Assessment of Values at Risk (RAVAR) is a new tool designed to determine
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National Land Parcel Data: A Vision for the Future the location of structures and assets at risk, and the program has been actively collecting parcel data in areas at risk of wildfires. The most important layer generated by the RAVAR model is the structure layer. The structure layer is generated by reaching out to local county offices including assessors, planners, natural resources, and GIS [geographic information system] staffs, to acquire the county’s spatial (GIS) parcel records. A building clusters map is developed representing the general location of structures identified within the parcel records.4 Wildfires routinely cross administrative boundaries and often occur in rural areas. Again, this is an example of federal agency needs for parcel data that cross county and state boundaries and could be met by nationally integrated land parcel data. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) In order to meet its responsibilities and keep the public informed, EPA has established a major GIS-oriented operation in its Office of Environmental Information. Through an EPA website a user can search to determine the location of brownfields, hazardous wastes, cleanup activities, and Superfund sites within a city, county, or zip code. Being able to link the location of such sites to other parcel data would be extremely useful; therefore the EPA has begun looking for sources of parcel data. If nationally integrated land parcel data existed, these data would be readily accessible for EPA to link to its own data set. Other Agencies A few more examples of agencies that use local parcel data to operate their programs include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Census Bureau, and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The Census Bureau needs to know the location of homes and businesses to fulfill its programmatic mission. Parcel data help the bureau acquire information about structures and more accurate boundaries for incorporated areas. National land parcel data would provide the Census Bureau with an accurate and up-to-date source of this information for the decennial Census and avoid the costs of having to collect such data itself. NOAA needs parcel data in its work on coastal land planning, conservation, permitting, and public access. TVA has 17,000 miles of power line rights-of-way it needs to manage in cooperation with the current landowner. The records of those landowners are spread across 220 counties, so national data would be quite helpful. (The need for parcel data by the utility industry in general is discussed further in Section 3.3.) As all of these examples show, federal agencies have a multitude of mission requirements that rely on parcel data for effective management or operations. The federal government has the largest need for nationally integrated land parcel data because it is the largest land manager in the United States. However, beyond its land management responsibilities, the federal government also has responsibilities to U.S. citizens as a whole, such as for emergency management in large disasters, which also make national land parcel data a necessity. 3.2 STATE AND LOCAL NEEDS AND BENEFITS The best way to measure the benefits of or justification for building a system for accessing land parcel information would be to examine the commitments that have already been made to implement such systems and the value in aggregating these systems across jurisdictional boundaries. A review of current parcel data systems (see Chapter 4) provides ample evidence that an increasing 4 See the RAVAR Executive Summary, available at http://www.nafri.gov/Assets/imm/RAVAR_Executive_Summary_GJ%5B1%5D.pdf [accessed May 23, 2007].
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National Land Parcel Data: A Vision for the Future number of local governments have recognized the benefits of parcel data systems and voted with their pocketbooks to implement such systems. In fact, many counties simply could not function without a parcel data program as a core of their information system (Larry Stipek, Loudon County, Virginia, personal communication to D. Cowen, October 25, 2006). At the state level, it is also clear that a growing number of state governments such as Tennessee, Oregon, and Arkansas have made a commitment to develop comprehensive statewide parcel data management systems. The reasons and drivers for aggregating parcel data at the state level can provide some useful insight into the benefits that may accrue at the national level as well. As shown in Box 3.1, the 1983 study categorized the benefits of a parcel data program to state government in terms of inventory of land and providing a basis for accurate development. While these issues are still relevant, they do not accurately portray the current situation and the desire of state government to assess and monitor the value and taxation of private property. A recent study titled An Assessment of Best Practices in Seven State Parcel Management Programs prepared for the FGDC Subcommittee for Cadastral Data (Stage and von Meyer, 2006a) offers an interesting view of the dramatic changes that are occurring and provides a glimpse of the future. The seven states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin) varied in terms of their stage of development but were committed to the completion of statewide parcel programs. In terms of the business drivers for statewide parcel systems, the report concludes the following (Stage and von Meyer, 2006a, p. 8): Property assessment has become the primary business driver for the creation of digital parcel maps. The principal business requirements for the local assessor and the state assessment agency are for (1) the more efficient property assessment for local assessors, and (2) the ability of the state to ensure that there is a fair and equitable assessment of property values. It can be argued that in addition to the efficiencies that digital parcel data bring to the assessment community, the parcel layer used as a base map is the most information-rich database with the broadest utility to local, state, and federal agencies. Although the states may have equitable assessment as their primary business driver, they also recognize the multitude of other users of parcel data, as acknowledged in the last item of the above quote. For example, Montana, one of the states included in the study, did a report on the various customers and clients for its cadastral data, which it summarizes into four categories: private sector, policy makers, individual citizens, and other government agencies (including federal agencies) (Stevens, 2002). As just one example, state departments of transportation are in regular need of contacting owners of land adjacent to highway rights-of-way as part of their duties to maintain and upgrade highways. In Minnesota, for example, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) has approximately 900 projects a year that require parcel boundary and ownership information. To get this information, MNDOT personnel research county records, usually requiring a visit to each courthouse along a right-of-way. Having parcel data online would simplify that work. Similar efforts are required by other state and local public landowners. Therefore, aggregating parcel data within the state not only meets the business needs of the state, but provides data needed by many others. The same case could be made for nationally integrated land parcel data. As shown in the previous section, the federal government has many business needs for national data, but there would be benefits to state and local governments as well. One of the benefits recognized by state and local governments is the advantage of having data integrated across jurisdictional boundaries. It is sometimes difficult to conduct region-wide projects that cut across multiple counties in
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National Land Parcel Data: A Vision for the Future our area. Not all counties have parcel data and not all counties that have data are willing to share it. Therefore, a national program would be very beneficial. (Comment from web forum: Melisa McLean, GIS Coordinator, St. Louis County Department of Planning) Montana currently serves statewide parcel data. I can get all surrounding counties from the state. However, since my county borders Idaho a national system may assist me in times of emergencies that straddle the Montana-Idaho border in my county. (Comment from web forum: Doug Burreson, GIS Supervisor, Missoula County, Montana) Having nationally integrated data would also help resolve some of the issues dealing with incomplete data at the local level or inaccuracies of the boundaries among different landowners. Parcel data in our jurisdiction is incomplete. We do not track state and federal owned parcels. Also, our parcel data has been rubber sheeted, and we are only beginning to correct some of the spatial inaccuracies in the data. Most of the land area within our jurisdiction has not been surveyed. We provide a strong disclaimer with all of our map and data products. As with almost anything else in Alaska, the user consumes the products at their own risk. The potential for negative impacts is there. (Comment from web forum: Erick Johnson, GIS Technician-Data Analyst, Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Alaska) The Dept. of Environmental Protection has serious encroachment issues by private landowners onto our land. We risk losing substantial acreage to encroachment issues. This is due in part to inaccurate parcel data. (Comment from web forum: Jacqueline Mickiewicz, Environmental Analyst, Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection) Another is the fact that a national set would enforce a set of standards for all parcel data. We would benefit not so much from the product of a national parcel map, but more so from the process to integrate all such data. Determining such standards would be of great benefit for all of us. (Comment from web forum: Pamela Kelrick, GIS Coordinator, GIS Consortium) Finally, the potential for nationally integrated data to make land parcel data more accessible on a much faster time scale was also noted. Save time! We sometimes wait days to receive data and records. (Comment from web forum: Tony Bellovary, GIS Coordinator, Bay-Lake Regional Planning Commission, Wisconsin) The amount of time spent tracking down land record information would be dramatically reduced from days/weeks to hours. (Comment from web forum: Mike Juvrud, Programmer, Mud Labs) Above and beyond the benefits listed above, however, having nationally integrated land parcel data would improve the functioning of the federal government, which would allow it to better support state and local governments in terms of distribution of federal grant money, federal support for emergency management, and better management of federal lands located throughout the country. Despite these benefits, there are some at the local government level who think that national land parcel data would not be beneficial to them. I think this is primarily a “sales job” by individuals who stand to personally gain from a national cadastre. Because of the volume of change taking place in many areas of the Country, a national database would be consistently out-of-date and lead to decisions based on incorrect information. The value to this County would be minimal. Now, if some funding were attached to participation in a national effort, to help maintain the information, then I could see a benefit at the local level. (Comment from web forum: Richard Hanning, Greenville County Government, South Carolina, GIS Manager)
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National Land Parcel Data: A Vision for the Future As this quote illustrates, there is concern at the local level about whether a national system could be implemented effectively and whether local governments would bear a financial burden for helping create it. Therefore a vision for nationally integrated land parcel data needs to provide a means for ensuring that the data are current, including incentives for local governments to maintain their data. 3.3 PRIVATE INDUSTRY NEEDS AND BENEFITS It is difficult to categorize all of the private industry organizations with interests in land parcels. Some firms produce parcel data as a necessary business function. For example, many companies are major landowners (e.g., timber and agribusiness firms) and maintain parcel data in order to manage their assets. The utility sector provides services (e.g., water, electric, gas, telephone, cable television) from central sources through transmission and distribution networks. Network facilities are commonly located in rights-of-way or easements. In some cases these are owned by the utilities, and in some cases they are easements across other lands. Therefore, utilities use government parcel data to identify landowners for new easements or rights-of-way and to identify adjacent owners. Information on values, assessment rates, and real estate taxes can be used to manage the comparable values on utility holdings. Tax parcels can also be used to identify potential new customers, verify meter addresses and locations, and plan for new subdivisions and layouts. Another group of firms relies on parcel data to support their core business. For example, at the Land Parcel Data Summit the committee heard from representatives in the land title and property insurance industry. An accurate parcel-level representation of the value and ownership of land is critical to their business; therefore, they often create and maintain parcel data independent of the local jurisdiction. Firms involved with the real estate market are users of parcel data, but a representative from the National Association of Realtors at the Land Parcel Summit indicated that there is not a consistent trend in the demand for parcel data and few of its members actually produce or purchase parcel data. However, the representative from Zillow at the Land Parcel Data Summit indicated that his company was aggressively acquiring parcel data across the country to support its website, which makes estimates of property values. More recently, Coldwell Banker has implemented a nationwide property listing website that relies on Microsoft’s Virtual Earth.5 In both of these examples, a parcel-level representation of property is required in order to align with high-resolution imagery. Some firms produce digital parcel data as a data conversion service to customers in the public or private sector. Other companies acquire parcel data from various sources and add value by standardizing the attributes and data format. Because of the importance of parcel data to private companies, a wholesale sector has emerged. For example, one of the vendors in this sector, NAVTEQ, just recently announced a new product called NAVTEQ Parcel Boundaries. It lists potential uses for its product as follows (NAVTEQ, 2006): Real estate search and visualization Insurance risk determination Infrastructure planning Railroad planning Utility planning Building and site development Retail site selection Telecom planning 5 See http://www.coldwellbanker.com/servlet/SearchProperty?action=findByMap [accessed March 15, 2007].
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National Land Parcel Data: A Vision for the Future Application development Environmental: lake and stream erosion control Business intelligence Construction of roads and public works Reverse 911 Hazardous waste disclosure Emergency preparedness There appeared to be considerable differences in the opinions of respondents to the stakeholder feedback from the private sector based on whether they identified themselves as a producer or user of parcel data. While only a third of the producers were positive about a national vision for parcel data, a clear majority of the users were positive. It is clear that the users of parcel data see the benefit of having a consistent source of parcel data in the public sector. At the same time, some producers may view such a system as competition for their products. Private industry firms that have created their own automated land parcel data systems have done so at significant cost. As data from the public sector become more accurate and available, the value of their data sets diminish. However, better land parcel data from the public sector would also streamline the private agency processes and reduce the costs of acquiring data. While it has been beneficial for many private firms to create their own land parcel data systems, it has not been cost-effective to produce data sets that are complete in all locations across the nation. Depending on the mission of the company, it may need or want parcel data only in certain places, such as densely populated areas, since this is where the majority of requests come from. For example, Zillow does not believe it is cost-effective for it to acquire data for more than the 1,200 counties that represent 80 percent of the population (Ben Clark, oral statement at Land Parcel Data Summit, May 23, 2006). 3.4 PRIVATE CITIZEN NEEDS AND BENEFITS Private property ownership is considered a key part of America’s sense of identity and self-determination. In fact, Pipes (1999) has argued that individual property ownership is a basic aspect of our freedom. The need to protect individual property rights generated the political and legal institutions that also guarantee our liberty. Countries such as Russia, with a limited history of property rights, also have a limited sense of personal freedom. From the beginning, America has pressed for its citizens to be home owners, landowners, and free. While ownership of property is a cornerstone of American beliefs and institutions, public access to information about ownership and value is also critical for equitable taxation and efficient real estate markets. Therefore, information contained in land records is generally available to everyone, from the landowner to the curious to the entrepreneur. In the United States, land ownership, land value, and land use controls are the responsibility of governmental bodies of cities, counties, or Indian reservations. Most land originally belonged to the colony or the federal government but was transferred gradually to private ownership over the past two centuries and all issues related to land moved to the local level. There were two reasons for this move. First, it meant that individuals could have ready access to their records, no more than a one-day wagon ride from their homestead. Second, it meant that public notification about land ownership and government regulation and control of private land was kept close to the owners. Historically, states and the federal government have been allowed to intervene in property rights only when larger societal or environmental issues are at stake. Issues relating to planning, zoning, and eminent domain are entrusted to local government officials who are directly accountable to taxpayers and voters and are conveniently close.
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National Land Parcel Data: A Vision for the Future In 1983 when Box 3.1 was written, there was little if any direct involvement of the public with land parcel data. Typical home owners had deeds for their property and may have seen a paper tax map that depicted their property in relationship to streets and other parcels in their neighborhood. Today, in contrast, in many locations the general public can interact directly with local government through websites that enable individuals to perform a host of tasks and check the accuracy of information that is important to them.6 However, the ease of access varies by the sophistication of the county record keeping system and the policies of the county board. Many local governments are willing to distribute such information over the Internet; they see this as service to their constituents. Individuals can find the information they want without needing to drive to local government offices. Furthermore, less staff time is spent responding to customer inquiries. There are no universal standards regulating how information relating to parcels is disseminated. Several local government policies allow property owners to “opt out” of allowing web-based searches of their data. Many communities also restrict access to property ownership information pertaining to judges and law enforcement personnel who could be targeted by criminals. For many local governments, even today, parcel data are buried in paper maps and records and scattered across many offices. Home owners looking for information about their property may need to visit the county surveyor, recorder, or assessor or go to the offices for planning and zoning, inspections, water department, public works, or public safety. Even when records are automated, they often are automated department-by-department and cannot be integrated. A growing number of counties are creating enterprise-wide computer systems that connect the land record files of individual departments. This embodies the vision of the 1980 NRC study, where unique parcel numbers on every record allowed the different files to be connected. For example, this allows the assessor and the planner to share information about land use. GIS allow environmental data, such as soils, to be overlaid on the parcel maps, so those two offices can include soil characteristics in their analysis of the fertility of a particular parcel. This is good for those offices, but also good for home owners looking for information about their property. Protection of privacy is one reason given for not sharing data widely over the Internet. Some counties respond to this issue by removing names from their Internet inquiry system or at least removing names as the basis of a search. There are also counties in remote recreation areas that are even hesitant to show parcel boundaries because these indicate locations of seasonal homes where owners are absent much of the year. Access to an electronic copy of the county database of all properties is a different issue. Often such access requires a license from the county as a way to protect its citizens and its rights to the data. Typically the database can be transferred on digital media such as a compact disc (CD) or digital video disc (DVD), but increasingly access is provided via web mapping services where the user accesses required data as needed from the county website. In order to understand how private citizens would benefit from national land parcel data, it is useful to compare the U.S. model with that of Western Europe. Bengt Kjellson, chairman of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Working Party on Land Administration, provided an interesting comparative analysis in a paper “What Do Americans Pay for Not Having a Public LIS?” makes the following conclusion (Kjellson, 2002, p.1): In most developed countries, including those of western Europe, land registers and cadastres are kept—often in computer form and easily accessible—by public administration bodies or courts. There are often very long and strong traditions of doing so. Efforts are continually made by governments to enhance these systems, through legislative changes, technical development or changes to organizational structures. Transparency, low transaction costs and efficient property markets are key 6 As just one of many examples, see the Crawford County, Arkansas, Assessor’s Map Viewer at http://apps.geostor.arkansas.gov/imf/sites/crawford_county/jsp/launch.jsp [accessed June 13, 2007].
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National Land Parcel Data: A Vision for the Future objectives for this development. The development of these functions was also put high on the agenda as part of the recent dramatic political changes in eastern and central Europe. They were seen as very important steps in order to establish market oriented economies as well as strengthening democracy. The situation in the United States is very different. The US has a unique position among the most developed countries, having no state or federal system for land registration in a title system or computerized deeds system. Instead the property market relies on title insurance companies to provide stability and order. Public initiatives seem to be restricted to information about federal land. He concludes that the American home owner is paying dearly for the inefficiencies in our real estate markets by paying extremely high property transaction costs because of the complexity in finding the needed property information. Therefore, the development of nationally integrated land parcel data could provide private citizens with the benefits of increased access to property data and lower property transaction costs. Private citizens also benefit as a whole from the increased efficiency of government that would result from national data—for example, more effective emergency response operations. 3.5 SUMMARY Many changes have taken place over the past quarter of a century, but the list of benefits outlined by the 1983 NRC report remains relevant for all levels of government, the private sector, and individual citizens. Besides needing parcel data for their land management responsibilities, many federal agencies need parcel data to carry out their mission responsibilities. In fact, as discussed further in the next chapter, in the absence of nationally integrated land parcel data many of these agencies are collecting parcel data to more effectively manage their programs. State governments are realizing the benefits of having statewide parcel data systems for property assessment as well as other purposes and are beginning to create such systems. Private citizens would benefit from more efficient property transactions and from more effective government operations at all levels that would be facilitated by national land parcel data. Also, while some sectors of private industry have developed their own parcel databases to meet their own business needs, other companies are capitalizing on the growing interest in and needs for parcel data by creating data sets for sale. It was no surprise that almost all federal- and state-level respondents to the web forum who produce parcel data believe that a national parcel database is necessary, while only slightly more than half of the local government producers saw the need for such a program. Many local governments create data for their own applications and may not understand how a national effort would benefit their own local use. It is also not surprising that the vast majority of respondents to the online forum who consume or use land parcel data are anxious to have a national program that would facilitate access to the data. This desire was expressed by public sector parcel data users from every level of government. Certainly, the nature of the various entities’ needs regarding timeliness, coverage, and accuracy of land parcel data varies widely. For example, individuals are interested in data for a single property (e.g., its current value, a history of its owners). Some businesses want data that cover all or most of the country. Other users, such as those responding to disasters, need data for specific areas on very short time frames. Obviously no one system or database could meet all needs. Therefore the challenge of a national land parcel data program will be to meet the most basic needs while linking to parcel data producers who can provide access to more detailed data for those who need it. Finally, many people believe that a national system of land parcel data is inevitable and it is important to move ahead, as illustrated in the following comments. The task to achieve this would clearly be huge and costly but is something which must ultimately be done. A State based system which could then be integrated to a federal system may in
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National Land Parcel Data: A Vision for the Future practice be more manageable. (Comment from web forum: Roger Lee, Director, Geodata Information Systems Pty. Ltd.) Currently municipalities and counties with 17th-century land records systems are systematically crippled in their ability to administer taxation equitably, conserve their natural resources, plan for rational growth, and educate their students in geospatial technologies. It’s really amazing that there are no digital parcel maps readily available in large areas of the country. This is the 21st century, Hello????? (Comment from web forum: Donald Cooke, GDT Founder, Tele Atlas North America)
Representative terms from entire chapter: