Thursday, May 23, 2024

AR-Land Comm: Davenport Apparently Unfamiliar With Provisions Of Bill He Voted For

Monty Davenport has a response for L.J. Bryant and the Democrat-Gazette. Let’s just re-print it in its entirety before we parse the message.

According to Sunday’s Arkansas Democrat Gazette, L.J. Bryant said he favors using aerial image of property statewide for better marketing of tax-delinquent properties. When asked the cost of such a program, he cited that it would cost taxpayers $1.3 million dollars.

What Bryant failed to include, or perhaps even realize, is that $1.3 million barely scratches the surface of funding an adequate aerial imaging program. According to the Arkansas Geographic Information Office (AGIO), $1.3 million only pays for a portion of one-time costs associated with aerial imaging. AGIO has actually recommended that in order to run a responsible aerial imaging program, the state would need to pump in close to $15 million over the next 5 years to ensure accurate and updated mapping … nearly 15 times the amount my opponent was quoted as saying.

“This is a major misstep on my opponent’s part, a misstep made due to lack of experience and state government know-how,” said Davenport. “I have spent 40 years working in real estate, farming and business and have served 3 terms in the Arkansas House of Representatives. I know how our state budget works and how to properly fund state programs so that they receive adequate funding without overspending our tax dollars.”

Davenport continued, “When it comes to state budgets, L.J. Bryant needs to remember that nothing has a one-year cost. And in these times of tough economic struggle, we need to be more wary than ever before throwing our tax dollars after poorly researched ideas. It’s reckless to simply pull numbers out of the air when dealing with taxpayer money.”

If Davenport is correct and is not twisting facts around for his own benefit, this is a pretty big oversight by Bryant. Of course, one look at Davenport’s statement kind of kills that possibility.

Davenport references yesterday’s Dem-Gaz story, posted here, and then accuses of Bryant of “fail[ing] to include, or perhaps even realize, … that $1.3 million barely scratches the surface of funding an adequate aerial imaging program.”  Instead, Davenport says, the real cost is “close to $15 million over the next 5 years to ensure accurate and updated mapping … nearly 15 times the amount my opponent was quoted as saying.” Davenport apparently pulled those numbers from this report by the AGIO.

Now, Davenport apparently got his “close to $15 million over the next 5 years” figure from these numbers in the report:

In order to grow Arkansas’ future in economic development, improve the state’s ability to respond to disaster events and to ensure that property tax revenues are fairly and efficiently collected to support education, the state should consider the following investments:

1. Recurring, annual orthophotography (i.e. digital aerial imagery): $1,167,000 annually
2. Completion of statewide parcels: $1,503,000 annually for five years
3. Political and administrative boundary data improvement: $75,000 annually
4. Road and address data update and maintenance: $200,000 annually

Then he simply multiplied the figures in 1, 3, and 4 by five, and totaled everything up.  Note that this “over the next 5 years” language is handy for Davenport inasmuch the biggest cost in the list, the $1,503,000, only extends out five years and is a one-time cost (spread over those five years) that will not have to be paid again.

Even if we ignore that attempted sleight-of-hand, however, we still have the bigger issue of Davenport pretending like the Land Commissioner’s office would have to bear the brunt of that entire cost by itself.  This is simply false.

The AGIO and the geographic information system (GIS) it oversees are designed to benefit the entire state.  Davenport knows this (or should know this), too; HB 1356 of the 87th General Assembly (2009), which Davenport voted in favor of, defines one of the primary functions of the AGIO as “coordinat[ing] completion and maintenance of shareable statewide framework data.”  Moreover, according to the AGIO report Davenport apparently relied upon, “further investments to complete and improve the state’s GIS data is the highest priority among the state’s numerous state government, local government and private sector stakeholders.” (emphasis added)

Oh, but it gets better.

Cumulatively, approximately $1.5M of annual funding and a one‐time investment of $7.5M will result in the state creating a geospatial database that will rival any state in the country and will fully meet the needs of Arkansas[‘s] active and engaged geospatial community. Everything else is in place, it is time to provide the AGIO the investment capital needed to fulfill its statutory role [Davenport voted in favor of this role. –ed.] as custodian of the state’s geospatial data.

That $7.5M one-time investment?  Yeah, the AGIO isn’t expecting any specific state agency to pick up the tab for that.

While providing counties 100% of the funding necessary to complete the statewide layer might be the safest tact, it is critical that there is county buy‐in to the notion of electronic parcel data management. As a result, it is recommended that this program be implemented with the state providing 70% of the funding with the balance coming from a required 30% match from counties. Indeed, it is not enough to simply automate the parcels, but counties must be prepared to take on the annual maintenance of these data as sub‐divisions and other parcel transactions occur.

Nor would the Land Commissioner’s office be paying the $75,000/year figure listed in #3 above.

[T]he only new cost anticipated for this recommendation is a adding a GIS Analyst (DFA‐OPM C123) position to AGIO. This is estimated to be in the range of $50,000 ‐ $75,000 per year for salary and benefits.

Ditto the $200,000 year in #4.

It is recommended that a new position be created within the AGIO that focuses exclusively on furthering the ACF program and overall road centerline data stewardship. As with current AGIO personnel who work on ACF, this person would work closely with county data partners and would actively solicit data updates. This person would provide technical assistance to counties that are having difficulty with data update and would work to foster best practices for road data maintenance across the geospatial stakeholder community. This person would also be responsible for assembling county contributions into a coherent, statewide data set and working with the AGIO technical team on next generation approaches for integrating contributed data into a statewide data set and soliciting public comment on data holdings. The cost for this new position is estimated to be in the range of $50,000 ‐
$75,000 per year for salary and benefits.

In addition to a new, dedicated position, it is recommended that a pool of resources ranging from $75,000 -‐ $125,000 annually be provided for a grant program aimed assisting counties in their ability to update and improve their road centerline data. This grant program would represent an annual state investment in the maintenance of a mission critical data set.

So, remove those figures and we’re back to $1,167,000 annually, which is slightly less than the figure cited by Bryant in the Dem-Gaz article. And even that cost would only fall to the Land Commissioner’s office to the extent that other agencies were not chipping in.

Which brings me to my bigger point — while some money might come from private stakeholders, most likely other state agencies are going to chip in and/or the state is just going to fund the whole thing directly.  Thus, at the end of the day, whether the Land Commissioner’s office pays all of that cost or none of that cost, taxpayer dollars are going to be involved.

HB1356 (which, again, Davenport voted for), as codified at Arkansas Code Annotated 15-21-504 explicitly states:

(e)The duties of the board shall include, but not be restricted to:

(1) Identifying issues, problems, and solutions in implementing an overall Arkansas land and geographic resources program;

(2) Identifying and clarifying the roles of participants;

(3) Developing an overall coordinating schedule for framework data projects;

(4) Recommending methods of financing;

(5) Developing recommended priorities for the distribution of funds;

(6) Developing procedures for the inventory, storage, and distribution of spatial information;

(7) Implementing an ongoing information and education program to promote understanding and productive use of spatial and land information systems by public and private entities and individuals; and

(8) Encouraging and coordinating collaborative spatial project efforts and rewarding participants of collaborative efforts that result in economies of scale or demonstrable cost savings.

The AGIO study that Davenport apparently relied upon was undertaken to fulfill those purposes.

Davenport makes it sound like a vote for him is somehow going to save the “close to $15 million over the next five years,” which is simply not the case. The Land Commissioner’s office has no authority over this program; it can only contribute money to the fund created in Arkansas Code Annotated 19-5-1112.  So, in the end, you have Bryant saying, basically, that as Land Commissioner he would be willing to put part of his agency’s annual budget toward covering the cost of the annual aerial photography, and you have Davenport either disingenuously or ignorantly pretending like Bryant’s claim would somehow change the fact that most of the funding for this is going to come from taxpayer dollars.

So, once again, Davenport manages to create a clear distinction between himself and Bryant. As a voter, do you want the candidate who wants the Land Commissioner’s office to be one of the leaders among Arkansas state agencies in moving this GIS plan forward? Or do you want the one who will deceive you regarding the cost of the program so that his office can consciously lag behind and simply suckle from the teat of the program down the road? At worst, the actual cost in taxpayer dollars is the same under either candidate. At best, however, the leader will help move the program along more quickly and, thus, see the benefits in terms of efficiency and increased revenue sooner than the lollygagger would.

Oh, by the way, those benefits I just mentioned? They are in the AGIO study, too. You’d think Davenport would have noticed those and realized the overall savings to the state. I mean, given his extensive experience and broad understanding of state budgets and all.

Recent Articles

Related Stories