Phelps County officials Tuesday addressed several concerns raised about a proposal to use a new type of technology called pictometry.
For the last few months, county and City of Rolla officials have been considering contracting with a company called Pictometry International Corp. for a system that uses an aerial image capture process.
Through pictometry, low-flying planes capture pictures of the land and produce orthographic and oblique aerial imagery of every parcel in the county. That means the images not only can show the tops but also sides of buildings and structures on the ground in high resolution.
According to area stakeholders, the system would benefit several county and city departments, including the county assessor, law enforcement agencies, public works, emergency responders as well as planning and zoning among others.
District Two Commissioner-Elect Gary Hicks, who attended Tuesday’s county commission meeting and questioned whether there would be limits placed on sharing the images that are captured, such as with groups like the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“It’s a contentious issue,” Hicks said, adding that even some farmers expressed worries about, for example, counting bales of hay on their property.
“I can count the bales of hay with the current images we have or with Google Earth,” responded County Assessor Bill Wiggins.
The assessor explained that flyovers have been occurring in the county since the 1940s.
“This is just a different technology,” Wiggins said.
The last time aerial images of the county were taken was about six to eight years ago, according to Wiggins. Pictometry would provide updated photos, he said.
Wiggins also stressed that the flyovers would take a picture once every two years, adding that pictometry is not constant surveillance.
District One Commissioner Larry Stratman said he was recently approached by about a half dozen people about pictometry. “What they’re concerned about is available now,” Stratman said.
Wiggins agreed, adding, “All of the stuff they’re worried about, we can already do. The only difference is that with the software, I can measure now” without having to go on site.
Wiggins said there will still be some cases in which he or his staff will have to visit properties, but this software will cut down time in the field.
“This would allow me to tell if there is brick, stucco or siding on a building. I can identify materials and measure it,” the assessor said.
Wiggins also noted that he and his staff have a legal right to go on a property and take pictures of the outside of a building.
“This is less intrusive,” Stratman said of pictometry.
Page 2 of 3 - Presiding Commissioner Randy Verkamp asked how the county can respond to residents’ fears about the system.
Verkamp agreed, adding, “We’d hope to be less intrusive than having a person on their property because some people don’t like seeing that tape measure.”
Wiggins said in order to respond, he would need to know what specific fear residents have instead of generalized concerns.
“Under the license agreement with Pictometry, it gives us a level of security,” Wiggins said.
Wiggins said how to comply with providing images under Sunshine Law requests needs to be determined, as well. He noted that the images through pictometry can only be used for government purposes, not commercial purposes.
Wiggins said as far as he knows, “there has not been a lawsuit against Pictometry for any privacy concerns.”
Wiggins invited anyone who has a concern about pictometry to call his office at 458-6135 or visit his office at the county courthouse.
Hicks also asked Wiggins about his statement at the Dec. 4 commission meeting that the sheriff’s department would underwrite the initial $6,000 down payment for the pictometry system. Hicks questioned why the sheriff’s department would pay for something the assessor would be using.
Wiggins said it has not been finalized who is paying for what yet, but said that the system would benefit the sheriff’s department as well as several city departments.
Hicks noted that pictometry can be a “handy tool” to see if structures meet certain building codes or are leaning or if a building’s roof is sagging.
After talking with John Beger, county counselor, about what qualifies as a sole-source provider, Wiggins suggested proceeding with publishing a notice of the intent to move forward with Pictometry International Corp.
Wiggins told county commissioners that several counties have purchased the pictometry system without going out for bids because the company has patents on the technology that allows for oblique 45-degree angle images with geo-reference information that no other company has currently.
A copy of the legal notice regarding the intent to make a single feasible source purchase is available in today’s edition of The Rolla Daily News. Vendors interested in providing what Pictometry International Corp. can must contact the commission by Wednesday, Dec. 26, at 9:30 a.m.
If no other vendor expresses interest, a contract to accept or reject Pictometry’s offer would come at a later date.
Wiggins said Thursday that a flyover of the county cannot be scheduled until a contract is signed. Wiggins said he hopes to have a contract signed at the Dec. 27 commission meeting and get on the flight schedule since 2013 is a reassessment year.
Page 3 of 3 - Wiggins met with Rolla city officials and department heads, who he said were encouraged about moving forward with a contract. The Rolla City Council is expected to discuss pictometry at its Dec. 17 meeting.
The Phelps County Emergency Services Board Thursday night agreed to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with the City of Rolla and Phelps County for the pictometry system.