Is Your Tax Assessment and Collection System Taxing You? Modern Assessment and Taxation Systems Offer Functional Improvements and System Openness That Were Unthinkable When Many Legacy Systems Were Written

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For nearly seven years, GFOA's Research and Consulting Center has provided technology consulting services to state and local governments. Although our technology consulting practice has focused on financial management systems, sometimes termed enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, GFOA has also helped clients procure other types of systems, including utility billing, public safety, and timekeeping and attendance systems.

Over the last 18 months, GFOA has applied its technology consulting model in the area of property assessment, billing, and collection systems. Once highly customized systems developed on a client-by-client basis, today tax assessment and collection systems are available "off the shelf," sharing many commonalities with other packaged software applications. The more complex systems offer tools to mass assess units of property that share common characteristics. This is a function sought by large governments that simply cannot individually assess tens or hundreds of thousands of properties. The most comprehensive of these are called computer assisted mass appraisal systems (CAMA), but users can find some of the functions in a broader group of systems.

What functional improvements do current offerings have over legacy systems? Legacy systems are traditionally property-centric, with a permanently assigned identification number as the reference key to an individual property unit housed in a two-dimensional database. Integration of functions such as licensing and personal property taxation have motivated a relational approach to data, one that enables links to be built between customer and property records, and across activities of varying types (licensing, property assessment, and customer account maintenance, for example). Common customer records have enabled governments to enhance efficiency, collection and enforcement, and customer service. For example, businesses that are delinquent on their taxes are often subject to sanctions when the time comes to renew their business licenses. Unlike legacy systems, the customer-centric model links these two functions, thus enabling better business decisions.

Another benefit of the customer-centric approach is bill consolidation. Legacy systems generate a bill for each parcel, whereas a customer-centric database is capable of summarizing account status across properties and activity types. This model also facilitates the reporting of an overall cost of taxation or licensure at the taxpayer level. Finally, governments are able to achieve cost savings on billing activities thanks to reduced paper handling and mailing expenses.

Expanded customer service opportunities and efficiencies are available via the Internet or an interactive voice response system in modern CAMA systems. Rather than calling during business hours, customers can make basic account queries through an automated telephone interface at their convenience, thus reducing staff workloads and expanding service hours. Inquiry features via the Internet have been available within a legacy context for years, but these systems have been ill-prepared to facilitate payments online. Modern systems are migrating toward Web-based architecture, and are available at the customer's convenience.

What are the value propositions in terms of interfacing and integration? Built on relational database management systems, tax assessment and collection systems offer a degree of openness lacking in legacy systems. As a result, interfaces to financial, GIS, and other administrative systems are easier and more responsive to upgrades and patches.

The benefits of integration are both great and small when considering a comprehensive property assessment, collection, and billing system. In many jurisdictions, separate elected officials manage the assessment (Assessor) and collection (Treasurer) functions. This separation gave rise to function-specific solutions for each of these areas. …