Fixing Land Development Pain Points

September 20, 2021 by Meredith Trimble

Fixing Land Development Pain Points

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? How will an area’s property taxes be accurately assessed in a timely manner? 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 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 benefiting greatly from the results.

The Whole Picture

Becoming proactive in land development can ensure 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 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, but they can also 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.

Land has an inherent and important connection to appraisal activities. When a property deed is registered, it is critical that the associated information is shared with an assessor or property tax office. This is what facilitates timely and accurate valuations, which drive revenue streams.

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.

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