MERIDEN — Municipal officials are seeking the City Council’s approval to enter into a six-year contract with a vendor to provide aerial photography that they say would enable city building officials to assess properties throughout the city.
The council’s finance committee, whose members met remotely through video conference Tuesday, discussed the proposal and voted 3 to 1 to refer it to the council as a whole. The item was listed as “aerial reconnaissance” on the meeting’s agenda.
Members of the committee and other council members who attended the remote meeting raised questions about privacy, the use of the technology and which municipal departments would have access to it.
Tracking properties through aerial photography is a common practice among municipalities. The city has a searchable database of photographed properties on the city’s Geographic Information System, or GIS, website. City officials are looking to take more detailed multi-dimensional photographs that capture street level views of properties similar to those currently available through programs like Google Earth.
Eagleview Aerial Photography — a company with offices in Rochester, New York, Washington state, India and Australia — was among three companies to bid on a request for proposals the city posted earlier this year.
City Assessor Melinda Fonda explained that the purpose of the detailed photography would be to capture amenities and building additions that previously may have been unreported to city officials and provide more details on manholes in roadways, street signs and even tree counts.
“Having aerial photography would give us a real view of what’s going on in Meriden,” Fonda said, adding that Hartford officials also use aerial photography to assist first responders.
Fonda said because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic city building officials have been less able to perform on-site visits to assess properties.
Patrick Ladd, the city’s GIS specialist, said the technology is something that his office had previously wanted for years, but it had been cost prohibitive.
City Manager Timothy Coon said the technology would be particularly valuable when applying for relief after natural disasters.
“Just about every department in the city has a use for this,” Coon said, adding the proposal has his “unequivocal support.”
City Councilor Nicole Tomassetti, who serves as vice chair of the finance committee, said while she understands the data provided by the photography is important, she did “have real privacy concerns for residents.”
Tomassetti asked who has access to the information and whether it’s open to all departments.
Fonda responded, saying there would be a vetting process for access through Coon’s office.
Coon added, “The idea that someone is going to pull up data and look at people’s houses willy-nilly, it just doesn’t work that way.”
Officials responded to councilors’ suggestion that the proposal could raise people’s taxes by stating it would not raise taxes. If a property’s assessed value increases it would be because officials found a building addition or other modification that hadn’t previously been assessed.
Eagleview, according to a description on its website, is a “a leading technology provider of aerial imagery and data analytics.”
Documents provided in the City Council’s meeting packet list the company’s name as Eagleview Aerial Photography and as Pictometry International Corp.
A description of Eagleview’s proposal outlines three separate projects that would be completed over a six-year period, at a total cost of $43,498.07. The first project would cost $34,599.04, a fee that would be paid in two payments, each totaling $17,299.52.