In an effort to collect more revenue, tax assessors are taking aerial pictures of private properties.
The Southampton town assessor used such aerial photos of one of the most highly assessed gated properties in Sagaponack to show the town board how useful the flyover imagery, which cost around $110,000, could be. “We could see everything,” says Lisa Goree, the town assessor. “We could measure every roofline, every structure, the land between the structures. It was amazing.” The town already had the permits for construction done on the property, but the added detail from on high helped send the assessed value of the property from $218 million to $240 million, she says.
Resource-strapped local governments across the U.S. like how the photos can lead to more accurate tax rolls, greater tax revenue, and a far faster, easier way to assess properties. For an extra fee, counties can use software to compare current photos with prior flyovers. That helps them find potential changes to properties—and a good recent aerial photo can also stop a property tax appeal in its tracks. So while government users of the photos welcome it as a revenue and productivity boon, the impact on homeowners is more mixed.
There are serious privacy concerns with tax assessors snooping over private property with camera equipment. Agencies of the government -at any level, whether it be federal, state, or local- have proven time and time again that what private information they can use, they also will abuse.
Snooping is also a slippery slope. Today the tax assessors are using overhead photos to value your property, but who’s to say it won’t be the EPA flying over your house next?