Unique New Take on Assessor Reports
March 29, 2021 by
Ramsey County, MN, Sees ROI With Data Storytelling
As noted by Kristine Grill, open data coordinator for Ramsey County, Minnesota, “assessor’s offices exist to provide fair and equitable property valuations for a jurisdiction.” For offices and processes that remain largely behind the scenes, the notion of equitable assessments and taxation has significant ramifications for counties and the residents therein.
While it’s easy to see how property taxes work in funding important public services, there is a weighty nuance to achieving truly equitable valuation. For assessments to be fair, the data used in calculations must be accurate. “The foundation of an equitable valuation process is the assessor’s ability to create consistency around how each property is treated,” noted Grill, in this new American City & County article. “The accuracy of data used for assessments is critical, as is its transparency.”
Grill’s article, Updating the Assessor Report: A New Approach, focuses on Ramsey County’s new guiding practice that any dataset available on its open data portal must include a data story. This includes assessor reports. While these reports contain significant valuable data, they typically come in the form of dense PDFs that are difficult to navigate and understand. Grill’s article details how the county demystified tax data to empower communities through the power of storytelling.
Ramsey County’s Assessor, Luis Rosario, sought a new approach to simplify public access to property tax information. His work enhanced access to the annual assessment report, in particular, via the county’s open data site. Rosario, quoted in Grill’s article, explains, “Picture the scenario where an appraiser is visiting with a property owner with questions about changes in their home’s value. With our report in our open data portal, we can pull up their neighborhood data on a map to review median values, compare trends, and explain more of our process in real time. We can provide faster service this way, which is highly efficient for us, too.”
This improved access to information benefits stakeholders beyond residents, including decision-makers and other government staff. Residents find the information useful when exploring their options to appeal assessments. Community and economic development staff can use the data to review assessment changes over time and respond to trends.
Storytelling and Self-Service
Ramsey County serves as an exciting example for assessor offices fielding volumes of information requests from residents as well as title companies and real estate agencies. The open data platform not only provides immediate access to commonly requested information, but its interactive nature also facilitates self-service. “More than 5,000 viewers have visited the dashboard’s landing page since its inception,” wrote Grill. The dynamic web pages offer maps and interactive datasets for assessor information, contextualized by step-by-step narratives that mirror the county’s story approach for other areas, including voter turnout, homelessness response, and even the county’s deer population.
“Our new guiding practice in Ramsey County is that any dataset available on the portal must include a data story,” wrote Grill. “As we’re mastering storytelling, we’re moving from data points to holistic pictures, a practice that will ultimately help us create more informed constituencies, boost policy buy-in, and improve faith in county staff and officials.”
Grill’s piece also notes the positive return on investment for the county. “On the public service end, residents are empowered with clear explanations and context for what is going on in the county and with their property. We’ve expanded our audience and our reach, which is a huge win for transparency and education. For staff, employees no longer answer the same questions repeatedly, and the county will realize thousands of dollars in time savings.”