The Property Tax and Local Finance

By C. Lowell Harriss | Go to book overview

Computers in Local Property-Tax
Administration

CHARLES C. COOK

The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, a school dedicated to education and research in the area of land and tax policy, focuses on the property tax and on the various topics of property valuation. In the seven years of its existence, the Institute has developed a series of courses in the area of computer assisted mass appraisal (CAMA). As a part of this educational program it has developed extensive CAMA software, which is used by some local governments. These courses have provided a laboratory for studying CAMA in a pragmatic manner, while providing an opportunity to research new methods using live data, to identify problems, and to work closely with practitioners.

There are many possible uses of the computer in property-tax administration at the local and state levels. At the local level, the computer is used in at least one or more of the following ways in almost all jurisdictions in the United States and Canada. It can be used for land-records management, maintaining records of ownership, property-boundary descriptions, and so forth. The value of computers for such records management is largely unproven, not so much in a technological sense but because it would be too expensive to computerize hundreds of years of historical data, even if the data had originally been designed with the appropriate computer discipline. Furthermore, lawyers and others still feel that security in computer records is often inadequate.

Some computers can draw maps, and although this technology is developing rapidly, it is expensive and will require many years of development before its benefits accrue broadly. At the present time, it is unsuitable for small jurisdictions, unless done by the private sector.

Tax collection, which may be characterized as a complicated version of accounts receivable, is often computerized, but it can be difficult in areas where the taxing authority and the assessment authority are not coterminous and where the distribution of payment of delinquent taxes can occur several years later. Equalization of the tax base across a county or state is an excellent use of

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