Physical land is a county’s most valuable – and finite – resource. Developing land comes with pain points and risk. How much revenue, for example, will a developed parcel generate in the near and long-term future? What type of maintenance and service will new infrastructure require? What if sales and property tax revenues fall short of infrastructure investments?
These questions are increasing in importance as the early, first tier, suburbs (those that rose from initial urban sprawl in the 1970s and ‘80s) are now realizing that infrastructure replacements are coming due. In addition, new, further-out suburbs are growing and proactively strategizing to maximize their investments. Finally, larger cities experiencing new urbanism are faced with revitalization development efforts. These factors, while challenging, provide governments with a renewed opportunity to review land use strategically.
In particular, there is a new opportunity to address the fiscal productivity of land in development cases. The opportunity hangs on an integrated technology infrastructure and shared data approach. Exemplary counties in Texas, New Mexico, and Florida, are doing just this, and are benefitting greatly from the results.
The Whole Picture
Becoming proactive in land development can ensure that the fiscal equation tilts positively toward a public investment. Aggregating a government’s data creates the full-vision picture necessary for smart planning. This comprehensive view includes developers, plans, parcels, zoning, permits, appraisals, revenue, public works, engineering, and more.
One of the biggest reasons why many jurisdictions aren’t proactively addressing strategic land use is because the information needed for proper analysis is hard to access. Information that is locked behind many different siloed systems is difficult – if not impossible – to meaningfully analyze.
A Better Way
This common pain point for communities big and small, mature or developing, has a solution: actionable data. Access to and insight from data across the government can lead to an effective, proactive development plan with financially successful outcomes.
Pre-development analysis, for example, should show the ways in which developments drain from or contribute to municipal services. It should examine the long-term costs of maintaining infrastructure and the associated budgeting strategy. It should include revenue projections along with fiscal impact and broader economic impact analyses.
The key to achieving smart analysis is knowing which data – and from which departments – is necessary. The other half of the equation is having the technical infrastructure in place to surface and aggregate key information. In practical terms, this means bringing together:
- Property tax trends and real estate valuations
- Infrastructure, asset management costs, plans, and depreciations
- Budgets and debt service forecasts
- Comprehensive land-use systems
Aggregating this data involves multiple systems such as land and property, community development, community services, and finance and administration. An integrated platform approach that seamlessly connects these line-of-business systems is the foundational layer that enables effective data sharing. Some counties are already leading the way:
- Brazoria County, Texas, serves more than a quarter million residents. County staff, particularly in planning and permitting, spent significant time searching for physical documents and duplicating manual data entries. Builders and residents sometimes had to visit several offices to search for information. By digitizing its records and integrating permitting and financial systems, the county saved up to 45 minutes per employee per day on bookkeeping tasks. End-of-month close outs now take hours instead of a week. Information flows seamlessly across offices, and constituents can research and submit requests electronically, reducing lines and office waits.
- San Miguel County, New Mexico, implemented an appraisal software solution to increase visibility and improve information sharing between offices. In just one year, the county nearly doubled the number of affidavits it processed over past years. Appraisers are not only working faster; they can access real-time data from the field and link documents directly to parcel information. The software system tracks tasks through entire workflows, increasing accountability and mitigating gaps or errors. What’s more, if an assessor updates a record, it automatically appears updated on the treasurer’s side. This increases accuracy and eliminates unnecessary paperwork and legwork.
There is also real value-add here for professional and elected leaders. By using technologies that integrate along process communities, leaders can build models to help analyze development options. They can make – and explain – decisions based on clear insight.
The Public Piece
In St. Lucie County, Florida, officials implemented a fully integrated permitting system backed by GIS with a citizen-facing front end. In just a few months, the county mapped 156 different processes from planning and development services to environmental resources, storm water, and property acquisition. The county used resulting insight to identify new efficiencies that saved time and money, and the public was able to access information and complete applications quickly.
This type of citizen service makes residents’ lives easier. And, of course, any use of taxpayer resources requires constituent buy-in. Proposed developments can stir up opposition from adjacent neighbors or preservation groups. The good news is that a natural byproduct of effective internal data sharing is external transparency. Open data platforms that also integrate with the back-office systems provide important context along with the numbers to educate and engage residents and the media for critical support.
What data analysis and sharing can do in one jurisdiction can be achieved across a region. The natural evolution of internally integrated systems and citizen engagement is regional data sharing and connectivity. This holds the promise of strategic development and infrastructure solutions that benefit many communities across geographic or political boundaries.
Learn the specific steps to take to realize the benefits of these strategic connections in the new white paper from Tyler, Why Building a Connected Community is Every Leader’s Job.
The content of this blog post was developed and produced exclusively by one of NACo’s Corporate Partners, Tyler Technologies.