Commissioners instruct employees to investigate building permit violations

Posted October 18, 2012 at 5:00 am

by Julie Ann Madden

They say a photograph is worth a thousand words, and in Union County, it may mean millions of dollars.

At their Sept. 25 meeting, Union County Commissioners directed Planning Director Dennis Henze to use the county’s Pictometry aerial photographs and software to determine if any landowners have constructed buildings or structures in violation of the county’s building permit requirements. Union County Director of Equalization Dawn Steckelberg was also informed of this.

Commission Chairperson Doyle Karpen hopes the two offices will work together on this as the commission decided to purchase more Pictometry software programs to make this task as easy as clicking a few buttons on their office computers.

Currently, county officials have few options for investigating violations of the county’s building permit regulations.

Henze told the commissioners although he drives the county, he doesn’t know if an addition on a house is new or two years old — without consistently driving the same area.

“I don’t remember every hours, grain bin or storage facility out there,” said Henze.

He also receives help from Planning & Zoning Board members but he doesn’t find much he told the commissioners.

Commissioner Milton Ustad said that was a responsibility of the board members but Henze responded their duties are more with variances and zoning issues.

With the purchase of new Pictometry options called Cloud and Parcel Change Finder, it’ll be much easier to determine violations.

The whole county was photographed aerially by Pictometry personnel in 2010, and it will be done again early in 2013.

Pictometry photographs are taken from several aerial angles during the “no-leaf” period of Spring. Since trees are still bare of leaves, the photographs reveal much more about individual properties than other options.

The “Cloud” provides easier access to the photographic images and “Parcel Change Finder” will compare the 2010 and 2013 photographs and reveal any structural changes on each parcel.

It’s a much more efficient way of investigating violations of the county’s zoning ordinances, said Commissioner Ross Jordan, suggesting Henze dedicate a day each week to analyzing a portion of the county once the 2013 photographs are available.

For example, each Monday analyze a township, said Jordan. “We could potentially find people building without permits and we could address those.”

“(How these computer programs were sold to us) is that a ounty over in Iowa found $23 million worth of assessments of no or under-reported building permits,” said Karpen, explaining the programs will cost under $10,000 with another $2,000 annually for maintenance.

These photographs can also be used by the assessor’s office as an aid in calculating assessed taxable valuations.

“This will definitely be an asset to your office,” said Karpen. “This would be a great tool, a wonderful tool.”

“You could go through the whole county in a year and catch who never had a permit while sitting at your desk,” said Jordan.

Other S.D. counties have assessor’s office employees drive the county, said Karpen, noting that some counties don’t even have zoning or building regulations.

“All I need is a laptop and Smart phone,” said Henze.

Jordan said, “You only need one, not both.”

“You don’t need either,” said Karpen. “You have your computer on your desk.”

“Big Brother,” said Henze.

“You’ve got it,” said Karpen. “You’re welcome.”

“This is cool,” said Henze.

Steckelberg asked commssioners to increase her 2013 Assessor’s Office budget $11,600 to a total $56,910 for technology.

Union County Treasurer Myron Hertel reminded the commissioners they still would need a new computer server to handle the data.

Jordan suggested putting the monetary requests in the budget and deciding whether to spend it for this later.

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