County board discusses property photos on Web site

At a workshop held Tuesday, Nov. 1, the Washington County Board of Commissioners discussed the use of photographs in the property information section of the county Web site. Workshops are designed to provide a forum for commissioners to discuss and provide staff with feedback on an issue without official board action.

On Nov. 1, commissioners heard from several residents concerned about loss of privacy and possible safety issues raised by the inclusion of photographs and other information about their property that is currently on the county Web site.

Assessment, Taxpayer Services and Elections Director Kevin Corbid said the information in question is designated as public information by law. Photos and other features were added in response to requests from residents for more property information available online. The information is used by assessors, real estate agents and residents who are exploring relative home valuations. Corbid said there are online records for 70,000 to 80,000 improved properties and that assessors generally take photos of a property at the time when an inspection is made.

Based on responses from residents concerned about the perceived loss of privacy and security, Corbid said the department staff have been instructed not to take photos of properties with open garages or people and will review the Web site to remove any such photos already online. Corbid said the department is also open to removing photos upon a request from the property owner.

Commissioners’ opinions were mixed as they discussed the merits of limiting Web access to all property photos, balancing the usefulness of the information and the need for government information to be as accessible to the public as possible, against safety and privacy concerns.

They directed staff to bring up the issue again at a future board meeting and, in the meantime, to honor property owner requests for removal of photos.

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