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For the First Time in 37 Years, Jefferson County Makes Major Change to Tax Maps

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For the first time in 37 years, the Jefferson County Tax Assessor’s Office has completed a comprehensive countywide resurvey that has modernized parcel data that will impact more than 600,000 residents and departments like the Board of Equalization. (File)

By Barnett Wright | The Birmingham Times

For the first time in 37 years, the Jefferson County Tax Assessor’s Office has completed a comprehensive countywide resurvey that has modernized parcel data that will impact more than 600,000 residents and departments like the Board of Equalization.

The tax map is the foundation for some of the county’s most important functions from emergency services to the US Postal Service and every municipality within the county.

Officials said the antiquated tax application relied on obsolete technology which caused potential security issues and led to inaccuracies that caused confusion and raised questions about the reliability of the data.

Gaynell Hendricks, Jefferson County Tax Assessor, in the downtown courthouse. (Barnett Wright Photo, The Birmingham Times)

The conversion took about four years and involved more than 400,000 parcels, said Gaynell Hendricks, Jefferson County Tax Assessor. “[The technology] was really bad. It was old. … [But] now we now know where every parcel is located and the boundaries in the entire county.”

As Hendricks learned more about the antiquated GIS system in 2019 and found corrupted data in the Bessemer division could spread and put major systems at risk for the entire county she took action, she said.

The tax assessor said it was a huge and expensive ($3 million from the tax appraisal budget) undertaking.

“When we began this project, this was the largest tax data conversion in the history of the United States and we were only recently eclipsed by Harris County, Texas, which is the 3rd most populated county in the U.S.,” said Joshua Chris, Enterprise GIS Manager in Jefferson County’s IT department.

The inaccuracies in the antiquated tax map posed several challenges across various business operations and the inconsistencies proved disruptive for many departments.

“… it goes without saying that the assessment and collection of taxes is of critical importance to funding government,” said Chris. “Additionally, the data feeds into business systems across the county and impacts nearly every citizen within the county.”

Commissioner Joe Knight said the “pinpoint accuracy” of the maps makes a huge difference for residents who want to know exactly where their property lines and parcels are.

He also spoke of the importance for law enforcement and first responders.

“When you get a 911 call you know exactly where that property is … same thing with the police department and the fire department. That’s a great addition to our county.”

The parcel data is now “spatially accurate” which means that it is tied to its true location on the earth, Chris said. “When it comes to land ownership, location, and accuracy are imperative and carry legal implications. Through a two-pronged approach of recovering section corners and updating parcels to align with those legal boundaries, the data is more accurate than it has ever been.”

The county’s Parcel Lookup App has over 1.5 million unique visits and gets around 1,200 visits per day, he said.

“This technology has also allowed us to leverage the data in new ways,” he said. “We are building dashboards that allow for leadership to track updates over time and provide assessors in the field with up-to-date metrics on parcels that have been assessed and those still pending assessment.”

On Tuesday, Chris told the Jefferson County Committee of the Whole, “prior to this we were leveraging 20th century technology that was outdated, cumbersome, and not scalable to the needs of Jefferson County. I am happy to say we are now in the 21st century and implementing cutting edge technology and applications.”