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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Mayor backs regional database, but without property data

As published in the Record Journal Saturday March 10, 2012

By Dan Ivers
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2275

WALLINGFORD — Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. is recommending that the town endorse a grant application that would help create a regional property database, but he will not allow the release of the town’s records.

The South Central Regional Council of Governments is applying for the $591,028 grant from the state’s Office of Policy and Management, with the intention of creating a central database for property information in its 15 member towns.

Dickinson has recommended that the Town Council endorse the agency’s proposal, but said Friday he objects to the posting of information on individual properties in town.

“I’m not sure why people in Russia or China should be able to look up what your property looks like. I just don’t see the benefit,” he said.

Town Councilor John Le-Tourneau, who co-chaired the council’s Information Technology Committee, said he wanted to hear more about Dickinson’s reasoning, but doesn’t understand his reluctance to take full advantage of the grant.

“We’re not plowing new ground. Other towns do it and they’ve done it successfully for a number of years,” he said. “On the surface, I don’t see the problem.”

Eight of the regional council’s 15 member towns, including Meriden, already provide online access to property records through technology called Geographic Information Systems. The systems have details on each property, including photos, assessed value, owner information and year of construction. In Wallingford, however, people have to go to the tax assessor’s office to get the same information.

If the grant is awarded, the regional council would create a database for Wallingford, North Haven, New Haven, Madison, Orange, East Haven and Woodbridge, and expand existing programs in the other eight towns to include information on demographics, economic development, environmental features and transportation. All the improvements would come at no cost to the towns.

“Those municipalities without a web-based GIS program will have access to a dynamic regional system, while municipalities with a web-based GIS program will gain access to new data layers,” the grant application reads.

Dickinson said he recommended that the council endorse the grant so the additional information on demographics, transportation and economic development could be included, but he said he will not release any data on individual properties for inclusion.

He cited concern over a recent Supreme Court decision that barred towns from posting information that includes the addresses of public safety officials, such as police officers, judges and correction officers.

“If someone can tell me how we can guarantee there won’t be privacy issues, that’s fine. But no one’s been able to tell me that,” he said.

Last year, Dickinson rejected a recommendation from the Information Technology Committee to make property records available online for an estimated cost of $6,000. He cited many of the same concerns, including the Supreme Court decision, as his reasoning.

Should the grant be approved, it would take about two years for the database to be launched.