Software paves way for road plan, property data availability in Harrison

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HARRISON — The Town of Harrison is embracing the electronic age by utilizing computer programs that will allow anyone to search available properties in town and road mapping software that creates a plan and budget for future projects.

Town Clerk Melissa St. John gave a presentation to selectmen at their Thursday, Sept. 24, meeting about the behind-the-scenes work going on at the town offices. Town Manager George “Bud” Finch explained that while Code Enforcement Officer John Wentworth knows his stuff when it comes to assessing, he isn’t as technologically savvy as St. John. So the two combined forces to get hard copies of assessing files into the TRIO Real Estate System.

“The reality is, it’s an electronic world. … This is just to show you where we’re headed. … They’re not done,” Finch said. “We’re getting bombarded by people in real estate coming into the office, taking up time. And unfortunately, we’re not lawyers and we can’t charge $400 an hour. So, therefore, it’s taking up a tremendous amount of their time to do things that older real estate people used to do on their own.”

All of the assessing information for the town’s property cards has been transcribed into the software program, St. John said. But the paper cards will still be available and stored at the office, as some of the information – including septic plans – will be kept in paper form.

“The end result, the short answer, is the information will be available on the Web,” she said, noting realtors and individuals looking to purchase property will eventually have access through the town’s website.

There are software features that calculate the depreciation of a property over time, adding a global change in a neighborhood, including the addition of a gravel pit or some other element that would affect the valuation in the area. The program also allows for people to pull sales history, St. John said. While a bit time consuming, tables and schedules can be added. There’s a sketch feature available that allows for a diagram of the property to be created, but currently they’re simply uploading sketches from the paper files.

She added that by having property information available electronically, it allows employees to spot if something is off.

“Just in the amount that we’ve done, we’ve picked up things … that are coming to light. It’s not affecting the valuation on people’s properties,” St. John said. “It’s consistency to make it more equitable so that everybody does in fact pay their fair share.”

Wentworth told the board that with this system, the town may be able to eliminate doing reevaluations completely or at the very least could have one every 10 or so years and stretch out the time in between.

“That is technology,” he said.

As for the Road System Management Software for Maine Towns – which St. John said is easy to use – she and a few others are inputting data into it for the town’s 45 of miles of roads it maintains. There’s some other roads it plows for the state and Bridgton, but she said by email she wasn’t sure of the exact mileage yet. Finch noted prior to his arrival to the Friendly Village five years ago, the roads were in bad shape and the town has since been playing catch up.

“Some of this may have been done in the past. I cannot seem to locate any of the data if it was done. I would hate to see some slower progress in what we’ve been doing in bringing the roads back and saving some of them from near disaster,” St. John said, adding all of the town’s roads have been measured for length and width. “This program can kind of help us pave the way for the future on what direction to go in.”

The software collects data and can map where all the town’s ditches, culverts, signs and drainage elements are, along with the condition of the road surface including cracking. It creates a chart for each road and can generate a capital plan complete with recommended repairs and a budget with actual numbers. Finch said it can group together roads from tier one through three, with one being a highly traveled road that emergency and highway vehicles, along with heavy traffic, traverse all of the time, and three seeing significantly less traffic.

Selectman Matt Frank wanted to know who makes the judgment of how bad the roads are.

“My expectation is it’s going through the highway crew [and] the road commissioner. There are some key people that are going to, through the winter here when … there might be a little bit of time, they’re going to sit down and break it apart and go through that,” St. John answered.

A bonus feature of the road software is the information can be pulled and added into Excel, which is where Finch updates the town’s budget information that is projected through 2025.

“We can combine these things and put them all in one location and … get a better picture,” St. John said.

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