PORTLAND — The pictures could be worth billions.

Ligon Durham and Erasmo Benitez of Plano, Texas,-based Tyler Technologies are photographing more than 20,000 properties, the images to be used as building blocks in an ongoing revaluation that will determine property taxes in fiscal year 2021.

“I am the tip of the spear, letting them know what is out there,” Durham said last month.

Their work is part of a $1.05 million job city Assessor Chris Huff said could boost the assessed value of all city properties from about $8 billion to $10 billion or $11 billion. The $8 billion used for the budgeting purposes this year is already about $1.5 billion under the state’s valuation.

It is the first full revaluationsince 2006, and one that will eventually take more into account than the photos Durham and Benitez are producing.

For Durham, the work is part of an itinerant job. This year, he has worked in Texas, outside Philadelphia, and in rural Ohio. He is on his third camera, has taken 10,000 photos, and expects to take 20,000 more.

“I think it is very healthy, you are outside, exposed to the sun, it is good for your mind,” said the U.S. Army veteran whose prior job was on an IBM help desk.

His photos will live on at the assessor’s page on the city website.

“The photos are one piece of the puzzle,” Huff said Monday. “It helps lead us to a better analysis.”

Aerial photography, matching properties with prior site sketches on record, studying building permits and real estate sales will also go into figuring out the values, Huff said.

The property valuation becomes the basis for property tax rates after councilors approve the annual budgets for the city, School Department and the city’s share of Cumberland County operations.

The combined property tax revenues sought to fund the fiscal year 2020 municipal and education budgets is $187 million. With the $8 billion citywide valuation, the tax rate would increase 94 cents to $23.42 per $1,000 of assessed value.

At an $11 billion valuation, the tax rate would be $17, although individual tax bills could increase, decrease or remain constant. The goal is to keep those changes in tax bills to equal thirds, Huff said.

Durham prefers conservative estimates on how long any job will take. In Portland, he expects to wrap up in July, including any properties he has to photograph again.

“I always like to under-promise and over-deliver,” he said.

The pictures are uploaded into a laptop computer installed in the van he drives from job to job, and reviewed by quality assurance staff at Tyler. Of every 100 properties Durham photographs, he said he may have to re-shoot one or two because of clarity or more needed details.

Durham also updates the global positioning system coordinates for each property.

The pictures are transferred to cloud storage and submitted to the city, which may also want some properties to be photographed again.

His camera is mounted on a frame on the driver’s side window.

“I go slow and stay to the right,” Durham said. The van has a flashing light on the roof, and he keeps his hazard lights on.

In Portland, he said, the reception has been kind, although someone did follow him on Allen Avenue, take his picture, and told him what he was doing is illegal.

It isn’t, although he avoids pulling into private driveways unless it is necessary. 

“In Ohio, I was driving down a lot of driveways, some you even had to ford a stream,” he said. He also avoids having people in his photos.

No one has greeted him with a weapon in Portland, but it did happen in Texas.

He did, however, have a cat climb on the van in North Deering.

The vehicle has a magnetic sign identifying its use, and police are notified of where he and Benitez are working each day.

As the miles roll slowly by, Durham said the job is simple.

“It is all about the image,” he said.

“It is all about the image,” Ligon Durham said April 26 about getting pictures of Portland properties for a revaluation that will affect tax bills next year.

Ligon Durham of Tyler Technologies is powered up and ready to go April 26 as he travels around Portland taking photos for property revaluation in the city.

Ligon Durham has driven his van throughout the country taking photos for property revaluations. He is on his third camera this year, he said, and expects to take 30,000 pictures in 2019.

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