Picometry Allows Dimensional View

By Jann Wiswall

You might be interested to know that Cattaraugus County is a world leader in Geographic Information System (GIS) development.

A decade or so ago, the Parcel Viewer system built by Dan Martonis, who is now the director of Real Property Tax Services and oversees GIS Services, attracted the attention of the State of New York, and then both national and international experts. To this day, he is a sought-after speaker and advisor in his field and frequently is quoted in the literature.

“Cattaraugus County’s system really is top of the line,” Martonis said with modesty. And he plans to keep it that way with the help of the latest gee-whiz technology obtained courtesy of a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — Pictometry.

Simply stated, GIS is a system for storing and managing geographical information on a computer. If you saw the aerial images on television of Moore, Okla., before and after the recent tornadoes, you’ve seen a little of what GIS can do. GIS also is the program behind Google Maps and other services that allow you to look at locations on the earth from a bird’s eye perspective.

The county’s Parcel Viewer uses that technology to store maps of all 51,000-plus property parcels in the county. Users simply input addresses and are able to view satellite images complete with property lines, adjoining property information and many other details.

Pictometry adds another dimension to this technology by allowing users to view the same location from different angles. For example, with Parcel Viewer, you can look at your property from above to view the flat plane of your property lines, the location of your house and other structures within those lines, and get a sense of the distance between landmarks. Now imagine being able to look at the house at an angle off that flat plane — now you can begin to see a third dimension and discern the rooflines, slopes of the yard, etc. Using Pictometry’s tools, now you can measure distances between and around those features.

The county’s online system also allows users to interpret and visualize data to show geographic relationships and patterns. For example, county employees regularly use the system to get accurate measurements at bridges, dams or dikes that need repair. The system also is used as a tool to establish tax assessments.

The program certainly is not just used by county employees. Martonis said some 500 unique IP addresses access the site daily, which translates to some 700-800 individual users a day. Typically, regular users include municipal department staff, architects, engineers, contractors, realtors, developers, building inspectors and others who use it for their jobs.

Individual property owners also are regular users — especially those thinking of making property improvements or getting their properties ready for sale.

“Hunters, trail bikers, horseback riders and many others use the program, too,” Martonis pointed out. “People with smart phones can access the site through our app while they’re out in the woods to keep track of where they are or decide which way they want to go.”

And, he added, “We see definite spikes in usage during property tax assessment grievance periods.”

While images are not in real time, mostly because it’s very costly to purchase aircraft and satellite time, the state updates the county’s images every five years (the last time in 2012) and other sources provide new data in between, Martonis noted.

“Comparatively, we’re very up to date,” he said.

The county is offering two, two-hour training sessions on using the Pictometry feature for municipal employees, firefighters, EMS workers and other professionals on June 8 at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. The morning session is already full, but there is space in the afternoon session. If interested, please call (716) 938-2224. Additional trainings will be scheduled according to demand.

To get started using Parcel Viewer and Pictometry, visit www.cattco.org/real-property-and-gis.