July 20, 2004 – "GIS" looks now to most Virgin Islander like just another government acronym. What is the Geographic Information System? Many people probably don't even care to know the answer. But all that will change.
At a press conference Tuesday on St. Croix, government officials said that within two years all property-tax information for the territory will be entered into the GIS. Once that is done, any Virgin Islander with a little computer savvy and some nosiness about his or her neighbor just may get a naughty gleam in the eye whenever GIS is mentioned.
GIS has developed over the last 20 years and is now in place in 48 states. It has gotten its start in tax agencies. Unfortunately, when you get down to it, we live in a time when the tax assessor is one of the people most interested in you and your possessions.
As the government contractor who spoke at the press conference stated, it has developed in different ways and has had different outcomes across the states. However, there seems to be a natural tendency for it to grow.
For the tax assessor's purposes, basic data are entered into the system — the size of a property, how much it sold for last time on the market, who owns it now. The tax assessor also wants to know what kind of structures are on the land, how many rooms are in those structures, what each room is used for.
Other government agencies see this great database and begin to wonder how they can use it. Firefighters think how nice it would be, when they are heading to a fire, to be able to type an address into a laptop computer and find out how many rooms are in the house, whether any children live there, and if there are flammable products stored anywhere. Police officers see that some of this information would be helpful to them, so they pick up the database and begin adding their own data. Pretty soon zoning inspectors get into the act.
Government officials being government officials, they are always reticent about what information they choose to let the public see. Even at this early stage, that question has come to the mind of the people working on the new V.I. property-tax valuation project.
But this is the United States, and if government officials have a lot of information about you, judges are not likely to let them keep it a secret.
Some places in the United States set up public-access computer terminals dedicated to GIS. Realtors and title search companies immediately began making use of them. Now with Internet access so common, such terminals are not necessary.
So, in a couple years, when you are wondering just how much your neighbor did sell his house for, all you have to do is click on the address and you will find out.
And then, of course, there are those prying journalists. No longer do they have to take the fire chief's word when he says the house that burned down was worth $200,000, nor do they need to wait for the police sergeant to give the name of the owner of the property where all those marijuana plants were confiscated. Have the address, and your answer is only a click away.
To reach a representative GIS site, this one located in Ohio, click here. Enter any number in the search box. It will give you properties to choose from that have that number in their address. When you arrive at a specific property, remember: that is only the main page. To get more information, click on one of the other search areas such as a map or owner.
The University of Virgin Islands has been doing early GIS work for the Territorial government. To link to that site UVI Geographic Information System
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