Many counties are using a new source of funds to speed the conversion of parcel data to digital form and for other land related activities. The new source is an increase of $11 in the document fee that counties charged for recording deeds or other documents added as a result of a change in State Statute beginning in 2005. These fees can add up to a significant amount of money for some counties. The popular name of this extra $11 is the “Recorder Compliance Fund.” The name is a misnomer, because the extra funds can be used elsewhere. This article provides details about the fund source and examples of how four counties are using those funds to improve their land record systems.
State law calls these “unallocated” funds and allows the money to be used to fund related improvements to the land records system, including GIS.
“This money is available as authorized by the Board of County Commissioners for supporting enhancements to the recording process, including electronic recording, to fund compliance efforts … and for use in undertaking data integration and aggregation projects. ... This money must not be used to supplant the normal operating expenses for the office of county recorder or registrar of titles.” (MS357.182, Subd. 7)
Otter Tail County has taken advantage of this new funding source to complete its parcel mapping. They have been raising about $140-200,000 per year and decided to put half those funds into GIS. Brian Armstrong, the Spatial/Address Coordinator in the GIS Department, says the county was about 50 percent complete with its parcel mapping, and other departments were already seeing significant benefits of those maps. A committee authorized to study best usage of the new funds recommended to the Board that $70,000/year go to completing the parcel map. The parcel map will be completed in 2007, but Armstrong sees other land-related needs that could be addressed with these funds in future years: “Our county ditch maps are very old. And mapping emergent aquatic vegetation is an important environmental issue in Otter Tail County.”
Steele County had already completed its parcel map, but they lacked a way for county land office employees to access that data. Compliance funds were used to upgrade software and to migrate parcel shapefiles to the geodatabase format. Then, according to Dave Wavrin, the county GIS Coordinator, funding was provided to create an internal web-based portal for access to GIS data for over 40 Steele County employees. Access to this portal was also provided to other governmental entities with close ties to Steele County, tightly controlled by internal system administrator rights. The next step, also supported by compliance funds, was to provide public web access to a slightly less robust version of the GIS data. Next, Wavrin hopes to use the fund to upgrade ArcView users to ArcGIS 9.x versions and to acquire hardware and software for a GIS intern for the summer of 2008.
Beltrami County has also completed its parcel map, but the geodetic control is unreliable. According to Jane Mueller, County GIS Director, some section corners are off by 100 feet or more depending on the source of the section corner information utilized at the time the mapping was compiled. The county board heard other ideas for using the funds, but felt that an aggressive corner remonumentation project would have the “greatest effect for all concerned” at this time. As a part of that project, centimeter-grade GPS coordinates will be collected on every remonumented corner which will be incorporated into the county’s parcel mapping to improve the accuracy of the maps. Mueller stated that Beltrami County records approximately 1000–1500 documents per month which amounts to a potential revenue source of $132,000-$198,000 per year from this fund.
Wright County has a fairly mature land records system with a completed parcel map and a full function GIS on the web to serve to internal and external users via ArcIMS. In 2006, compliance funds were used to enhance the ArcIMS application and start work on a website for public use. The county also installed a new Permit and Inspection System that will eventually be integrated with other land records systems. Bill Swing, county IT Director, anticipates that the upgrades to such underlying systems will facilitate the build out and ongoing maintenance of a quality land records portal for the county. This year recorder data is being spatially enabled. Future plans include using the funds to upgrade other legacy land record systems such as property tax and assessor. Future uses of compliance funds include LIDAR, aerial photos, and continued land records web and GIS development.
Counties got the $11 bump in recording fees in 2005 when the fee was raised from $35 to $46. The major focus of this increase was to improve compliance in the recording and returning of documents. State law set the goal of 15 days for this process. In 2007, a county is in compliance with this requirement if 60% of documents are processed in this period. By 2010, 90% of documents must meet the 15-day rule. In 2011, the timeframe is reduced to 10 days and 90% compliance is required. It is not clear if these funds will be available after 2011.
This fund should not be confused with the Technology Fund, described in section 4 of MS357.18. That fund is enhanced by $10 per instrument and is a separate component of the $46 fee. The purpose of the technology fund is “…obtaining, maintaining, and updating current technology and equipment to provide services from the record system.” It is spent at the discretion of the recorder. The Compliance Fund is a separate $11 component and is spent at the discretion of the county board.