Denham Springs — A roomful of real estate agents oohed and ahhed as Livingston Parish Assessor Jeff Taylor showed a photo of his Denham Springs home during the Livingston Board of Realtors’ meeting Wednesday afternoon.
The photo was an aerial shot projected from Taylor’s laptop. With a few mouse clicks, the assessor brought up a map of the neighborhood, complete with measured lot boundaries, the square footage of houses and other information on each property.
The Realtors cheered and broke into applause not at the prospect of a hot new listing, but because the parish’s new technology is expected to streamline their businesses.
Maps can be edited to show flood areas, school districts and political boundaries, and includes information as specific as soil types, well locations and gas lines.
After four years of work, the Assessor’s Office expects to bring the parish’s geographic information system, or GIS, online for the public on April 15.
Real estate agents won’t be the only ones to benefit. Curious residents will be able to look up their neighbors’ assessed property values, find out who owns lots around the parish, and find other public information for free.
Law enforcement and fire officials said the GIS will help keep officers safer and help them quickly assess emergencies. The technology will allow the Assessor’s Office to more nimbly sort through information, Taylor said.
GIS mapping is not a new technology. Gregory Thompson, whose company built Livingston’s system, has been doing it since the 1980s. Taylor said he’s heard the demand for a system in the parish for years but had to save up the funds needed to pay for it.
“It just took us a long time to get it done,” Taylor said, adding that the final invoice was paid last month.
But the assessor said Livingston was able to learn from the challenges other localities have faced.
“We are going to bring you a top-notch program,” he promised.
Waiting also allowed time for the price of the technology to drop. Jefferson Parish’s GIS cost $19 million when they began developing their system beginning in the late-80s, Thompson said.
Livingston Parish paid Geographic Computer Technologies, of which Thompson is president, “a little over $1 million,” Taylor said after Wednesday’s meeting.
“I don’t know of any other mapping system like this,” Board of Realtors President Kayla Johnson said after watching Taylor’s demonstration.
She said the GIS will help Realtors by compiling different kinds of information in one place. If, for example, a buyer is interested in a home with a postal address in one city, but the house is zoned for a different city’s school district, they’ll be able to find out at once, she said.
Denham Springs Marshal Jerry Denton was excited to learn the system would be compatible with phones and tablets. His deputies spend a lot of time serving warrants, which — as the recent fatal shooting of a federal marshal in Baton Rouge showed — can be dangerous, he said. The Marshal thinks his deputies will find the aerial photos of properties useful, so they’ll know the lay of the land before attempting a potentially risky operation.
“It’s almost priceless to have that information at your fingertips,” he said.
Aerial photos will also help guide sheriff’s deputies to callers and help in searches and rescues, Livingston Sheriff’s spokeswoman Lori Steele said.
Fire officials in attendance Wednesday said they will be interested in the map’s help finding hydrants and knowing the size of water mains, Denham Springs Fire Chief Melvin Wheat said.
The Assessor’s Office will spend the next month polishing display features, trying to fill in some of the remaining blank spots on the map, and training, Taylor said. He hopes to begin providing seminars for the public in May.
He said his office also will keep updating the map as information changes and the parish takes new aerial photos.
Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.