Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Parcel Data – Who Shares It?

Some local, some state, some not at all.  Remember when Google first started and the one liner about them was “if you have it, we want it”.  That’s the story for parcel data too.

There are lots and lots of cities and counties that share parcel data with attribution on a regular or periodic basis.  Some update continuously others provide quarterly or annual updates.  A recent survey of parcel producers found there are approximately 6,500 parcel producers (cities, towns and counties) in the US (see Parcel Data - Who Builds it) and of these nearly 70% provided at least viewer or REST Service access to their data and a smaller percentage (around 50%) provided free download and/or open data access. Those that do provide open and/or downloadable access cover almost 80% of the US population and parcel count.

As awesome as digital parcel data are there are certainly understandable reasons why all parcel data is not shared for everyone to have.

The vendor made me do it or proprietary formats - It’s not the mapping formats, it’s the attributes.  Many local governments are tied into real estate tax system (or CAMA) software that has the attributes locked up in either a difficult to extract or expensive to extract data structure.  In a few rare cases the mapping and attribution is managed by outsourcing and the local government doesn’t even own it’s own maps or data.

Once bitten, twice shy - Many local governments have experienced sharing their data with an application or a customer only to be criticized because the supplied parcel data did not meet expectations.   As examples “Why doesn’t this data indicate which homes are owner occupied and which are rented?” “I wanted to see a recent inspection on condition of the structures, where is that information?” I checked this data against my iPhone and the coordinates you have are wrong, I am calling my councilman.” “Where is the mortgage amount in this data set?”  Many of the concerns downstream users have can be explained if the data producer has a chance and if the recipient wants to understand.  Unfortunately, there are too many instances where the criticism gets widely distributed and the explanation (metadata) not so much. 

Show me the money - This has several variants including - We paid good money for this; we are not going to give it away and I need this revenue to fund my office.  These are all, well mostly all, good reasons.  There are many jurisdictions that run short of allocations and automation is not enough to make up the shortfall.  In the Parcel Dial Tone, I mentioned the need for more rural counties and under budgeted offices in particular to charge for data.  Sadly data sales are not likely to be a sustainable revenue stream.  It’s just the way it is.  Consider the path imagery and addresses and elevation and building footprints and so many other data sets have taken.  As technology advances the data becomes more widely and more freely available.  This is not ridicule or undervalue the resource needs of local assessors and parcel mappers.  The needs are real; we just need to find more sustainable and effective funding sources.

It’s mine - Much like parenting sometimes it just comes down to you can’t go to the movies because I say so. Period.  Sometimes this rational is clothed in privacy concerns or “what are you going to do with it?” concerns (see once bitten, twice shy).  Sometimes it’s just that so much personal dedication and commitment has been put into the data, it’s hard to let it go. It’s hard to not take ownership of it.  I have always thought that parcel data is personal.  It’s the most personal of all locally maintained data sets.  The data producer’s fingerprints are all over this data set and having a sense of ownership is certainly understandable.

Who shares parcel data? The most recent detectable trend is more and more parcel producers are sharing, especially cities, lots of cities.  

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