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Commission considers posting county's property data on Web

Sun Advocate reporter

Carbon commissioners agreed last week to pursue a proposal to provide realtors and interested parties with data maintained by the county assessor relating to property ownership, assessed value and related information.

At a commission meeting on March 7, Carbon County Assessor Nancy Ferderber offered a proposal to provide information with the Carbon/Emery Board of Realtors using an online service in exchange for a subscription for the county to the multiple listing service (MLS) used by the realtors.

The MLS was created as a service to facilitate the exchange of information between realtors on properties which have either been placed on the market or been recently sold.

Ferderber explained in an interview on Monday that the county assessor's office currently pays a subscription fee to access information posted on the MLS.

The assessor's office uses the information when compiling various reports required by the state and for various internal uses.

And just as the assessor's office uses information compiled by realtors to perform its functions, realtors use information maintained by the assessor to transact business.

In the proposal to Carbon commissioners, the county assessor planned to provide online access to realtors using a secure Web service containing various information such as ownership, parcel number and address.

"We are inundated with phone calls all the time for this information," said Ferderber during an interview on Monday.

As homes and businesses are placed on the market, realtors often request information about the property from the county.

The information which realtors request is public information and any member of the public can request to receive it.

Currently, each of the requests must be handled individually by staff in the assessor's office.

The proposal would make that information available online to subscribers.

In the original proposal, Ferderber suggested that the county provide the online service only to subscribers of the MLS.

The individuals or agencies who do not subscribe would need to contact the assessor's office directly.

Requests for information do not consume a significant portion of the staff's time at the county assessor's office, said Ferderber. The proposal presented to the commission focused on streamlining the exchange of information between the assessor's office and realtors.

The assessor explained the information exchange between realtors and county officials generally leads to more accurate information - both in the county's records and the MLS database.

The assessor said she wanted to see that exchange continue and hopes the proposed online service would make county information more accessible for the parties who use the data the most.

Prior to the commission meeting, the assessor and county information technology staff had looked at the possibility of providing the information and determined that is was feasible.

With just a few days of work, county IT staff could have the system functioning, indicated county IT technician Barry Horsley.

And with a few hours of maintenance each year, the service could be maintained on a regular basis.

Ferderber thought the proposal would be approved by the commission with little debate, pointed out the county assessor.

But after the assessor explaining the proposal, concerns about the privacy of property owners came up during the discussion at the county commission meeting.

Commissioners indicated that they could see no problem with the service as long as there was some sort of mechanism in place to protect sensitive county data.

Under the proposal, individuals accessing the site would need a user name and password to view data.

However, Commissioner Michael Milovich pointed out that he has seen problems with MLS subscribers sharing passwords with other individuals.

And if the users of MLS - who are likely the same individuals who will have access to the proposed Web site - are sharing login information with unauthorized users, Milovich questioned what would stop the people from sharing the personal login information established for the county's service.

Milovich suggested that the county not show sensitive information on the Web site, such as owner name and address.

Instead, Milovich suggested that the information could be automatically e-mailed to users who requested the county.s property data.

The county could then log who receives information about each property, said Milovich. That way if concerns about privacy arose, the county would be able to show who received the information and when.

Milovich added that the county should charge a subscription fee to cover the costs of operating the service.

Commissioners Steven Burge and Bill Krompel said that they could support providing the online service as long as appropriate measures were taken to safeguard sensitive information.

Although no formal action was taken at the March 7 meeting, the commission directed county IT staff to look at ways to accomplish the intent of the proposal while safeguarding sensitive data.

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