June 15, 2011 in City

County OKs aerial photos for city

Firefighters, police, recruiters may use multiple-angled shots
By The Spokesman-Review

Aerial photography that was purchased to help the Spokane County asessor’s office has a new home and more uses.

County commissioners Tuesday approved a contract in which the city of Spokane will pay $53,402, or about half of this year’s cost of a contract for photos that show the sides as well as the tops of buildings.

The photos by a Rochester, N.Y., company called Pictometry were controversial last year when then-Assessor Ralph Baker signed a six-year contract.

Baker convinced commissioners the photos would help him cope with a $347,500 budget cut. The photos show structures from several angles in addition to traditional straight-down views, and allow accurate measurements.

However, voters replaced Baker with Vicki Horton, who thinks the cost greatly outweighs the benefits. She was satisfied with the straight-down photos the assessor’s office used to get for free.

Now, though, the Pictometry cost is spread among all county departments through the Information Systems Department, which took over the contract in January. Horton’s staff retains use of the photos, but engineers, planners, sheriff’s deputies and other county employees have access.

Spokane officials plan similarly broad use, including a new layer of information for the city’s digital mapping system.

Spokeswoman Marlene Feist said the oblique-angle photos will be useful to firefighters and police as well as to business recruiters who want to give prospects a virtual “walk-around” of properties.

Fire Chief Bobby Williams said the photos will help dispatchers clarify locations and will give his officers more information at fire scenes. He said the photos also will be useful in planning for potential fires.

“It seems to be working out the way we expected,” Commissioner Mark Richard said, noting Baker predicted other agencies would want the photos.

Ian Von Essen, the county’s geographic information system manager, said penalties made it “pretty onerous” to cancel the six-year contract that Horton wanted out of her budget.

The contract allows the county to sell the photos to members of an Avista-led consortium that previously contracted for straight-down aerial photos.

Members included Spokane Valley, Liberty Lake, Airway Heights, Cheney, Medical Lake, Deer Park, Spokane Valley Fire Department, Liberty Lake Sewer and Water District and the state Department of Transportation.

Von Essen said Tuesday’s contract with Spokane is a first step in marketing the photos to the other consortium members.

“We’re certainly interested in looking at the option of participating in a cost-sharing system with them,” said Randi Rich, Avista’s manager of engineering technical services.

Rich said the Pictometry contract would have to be amended to provide extra-high resolution photos throughout the county, not just in urban areas.

Avista usually commissions annual flights for photos to update its digital maps, but didn’t this year.

Von Essen said the county typically pays $30,000 to $40,000 a year for photos from Avista, and he hopes to make the Pictometry cost similar by signing up more partners.

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