Land records amalgamation will be key to reorganizing government services
As Hubbard County commissioners approved the expenditure of $15,000+ funds to purchase land records software, the question arose: Should county taxpayers subsidize the commercial interests of businesses capitalizing off that software?
"It's kind of like the Dewey Decimal system in the library, this is how we organize and categorize the index and imaging information of all of the recorded land records," explained Recorder Nicole Lueth of the software's potential.
"My office is basically a roomful of 150 years of land liens and transfers for our county," she added. "So this land records indexing system helps us organize it. If you come in, we can find the one that specifically belongs to you. By statute they're public records and the public is allowed access to them" during office hours.
"But they're so complicated that generally the public can't come in and trace the history of their property because real property law is confusing. That's why we have attorneys," Lueth said.
"So that's why people generally hire an abstractor or an attorney to search their property for any liens of encumbrances, mortgages, etc., to see who is the rightful owner," she said.
Title and abstract companies search property records to ensure buyers and getting clear titles, and sellers have marketable titles.
Those firms, and property attorneys, can subscribe to a monthly online service that gives then access to the records any time.
But Lueth asked the board if the records are priced fairly to users.
"When we first put that (fee) in place and set the fee around 2003 or 2004, at that time we had a year-and-a-half of images on there and maybe 10 years of indexing information," Lueth said.
"Now we have closer to 150 years of information so I'm trying to get the board to think about essentially, 'Do you want the Hubbard County taxpayers to subsidize the commercial user by paying for the services for them and keeping it cheap or do you want the commercial users to pay for what they're using and not have that money added on to the levy in essence?'"
Lueth said she takes no position on the issue. It's a board decision.
"Some people are getting a screaming deal," she warned the board.
But she told board members what troubles her is the resale of the information, which is technically prohibited by the user agreements. The board took the matter under advisement.
Land records and payroll are playing a key role in redefining Hubbard County government services.
Payroll functions will be centralized and placed into the coordinator's office by late summer under one employee. Currently each department handles its own payroll.
Offices involved in land record functions, the auditor-treasurer, assessor, recorder and environmental services office, will begin assimilating budget information and office functions in a team approach.
Although the "one stop shopping" concept has been getting attention for a year, its urgency was hastened by the pending retirement of Steve Pachel, the county's GIS technician.
That retirement has given the county a chance to re-think what the position should offer to the combined offices and how to fill it.
The board said long-term technical needs should be examined while employees cross-train to fill in gaps in service.
But until each of the four departments can work with the same software, redundancies will occur.
If employees in the recorders office enter information on a land record, the auditor's personnel have to re-enter that information once they access the same record.
"Every department has their own specialized and customized software with all these different names and they change every few years. It's a nightmare to keep up with," Lueth said.
Progress is slow, but software vendors are finally talking to each other about amalgamating numerous functions in one software package.
"My gosh, we gotta do it more efficiently," Lueth said, impatient for change. "And the way our budgets and people are getting cut we're not going to have the resources. We'll get it figured out but it's just gonna be a little painful."