Fortunato “Cookie” Egonia climbs into a van and sits at a work station that includes a desk, two computer screens and window-mounted camera with zoom capability. His screens display images photographed by an overhead satellite, but trying to zero in on a particular structure for a close-up results in a blurred picture.
Using a digital map and the satellite image as a guide, Egonia, a Kansas City-based senior field technician who works in verification, data and imaging services for Tyler Technologies Inc., is providing photos of as many of the 118,000 properties in Washington County as is humanly possible for property reassessment purposes.
Lest anyone think that Egonia’s multitasking might endanger others on the road, rest assured that he’s not behind the wheel of the slow-moving, converted 12-passenger van equipped with a rotating amber light, four-way flashers and signs that warn of its snail’s pace on public streets. Actually driving the vehicle is Terry Barton of Washington.
For quality-control purposes, Egonia corrects addresses in the database when he finds an error to make the public record as accurate as possible. When the reassessment is complete, the collected images will become part of an Internet database that anyone with a computer can access.
“We’re not allowed to photograph people or police vehicles,” Egonia said. Dogs, cats, birds or other animals don’t, however, have any expectations of Internet privacy.
Weather since the reassessment began last Thursday has been just about perfect, but the camera van won’t be completing its photography until after the first of the year. As weather worsens, raindrops, sleet or falling snow interfere with a clear image.
“I don’t know what the rules are for (accumulated) frost or snow,” Egonia said. “That’s up to you guys,” he said to Bob Neil, Washington County’s former chief assessor who is now the county’s consultant for the property reassessment. Snow or frost on a roof hides the material with which it’s constructed, which affects its value.
“We did Chicago, but by the time the snow fell, we had to head down South,” Egonia explained. “I’m the only van running around. They’re supposed to send another van,” and possibly a third, Egonia said of his superiors.
“We have to get this project done because we have so many projects coming up,” he added.
A magnetized sign on the Ford E-150 white, all-wheel-drive van shows that the vehicle is doing reassessment work.
“In addition to image collection in the City of Washington, the van will also be taking images in East Washington Borough. They will also be photographing commercial and industrial properties on the weekends. On some occasions the image collection van may be seen in commercial areas as early as 7:30 a.m. when vehicular and foot traffic is minimal,” Neil wrote in response to an email inquiry.
“At 3 or 4 o’clock, traffic is ridiculous,” Egonia said.