Housing permits surging

A construction employee works on one of the many houses being built in the Heartland Ranch community of Coolidge.

FLORENCE — Pinal County is now providing pending parcel numbers to help builders work as quickly as possible, and the Board of Supervisors will consider additional employees for the Assessor’s Office on Oct. 6.

The board heard from a couple of homebuilders Wednesday who said the Assessor’s Office can’t keep up with the demand. The board also approved an upgrade to the county’s Pictometry technology to assist the assessor and other county departments.

Bret Marchant told the board that builders are having “a huge issue getting our tax parcel numbers.” During the boom 15 years ago, they could get them in 30 days, and now they’re taking eight to nine months, Marchant said.

“We’re in the middle of a boom now, and we don’t want to miss out on it,” he told the board. Another builder said the assessor has “a huge staffing issue,” including employees working weekends.

County Manager Leo Lew said the Assessor’s Office will present a request for additional positions at the board’s Oct. 6 meeting. He continued builders may now obtain pending assessor’s parcel numbers, or APNs, on the county’s website.

The board avoided what Pinal County Assessor Douglas Wolf said would be “a foolhardy mistake” Wednesday by approving the Pictometry upgrade at a cost of $531,764. Supervisor Kevin Cavanaugh, R-Coolidge, who questioned whether the cost was justified, voted no.

The board was originally scheduled to vote on the upgrade Sept. 1 but delayed action until Wednesday for more information.

Pinal County government has been using Pictometry since 2017 to see buildings without employees having to visit in person. It is a patented aerial image capture process, using a low-flying aircraft, that shows the fronts and sides of buildings. It’s been a labor-saving device in the Assessor’s Office, and other county departments have found it useful as well.

“We do use this a lot, I hope this (upgrade) gets accepted,” Paula Mullenix, code compliance manager in Community Development, told the board. County Engineer Chris Wanamaker said, “It’s a really cool tool, nice to have, but not necessarily essential to our daily operations” in Public Works.

Cavanaugh made a motion to postpone approval indefinitely, but the motion died for lack of a second. Supervisor Jeff Serdy, R-Apache Junction, asked Cavanaugh, “You don’t think it will help the assessor do what he needs to do?”

Cavanaugh asked Wolf if his employees would still have to go out and measure houses. Wolf replied sometimes the answer is yes, other times they can rely on Pictometry. “It depends on the particular building.

“But the point is … you’re taking away a tool that helps us get our work done, if you don’t do this. We already had a roomful of developers who were here earlier this morning saying we’re way behind on APNs. Why would you take away a resource that helps us get these developers moving down the pipeline and get their business done?” Wolf asked.

“I think it’s a foolhardy mistake,” Wolf continued. “All I can do is come to this board and recommend, because you guys decide how to spend the money.” He said Pictometry has been a great resource for the county since 2017.

Cavanaugh questioned whether the savings justify the cost. But Wolf said, “I don’t look at this as a hard-dollar return-on-investment issue. For the Assessor’s Office, what we need is the tool in order to do our job.

“Whether that returns us $500,000 or $200,000, I can’t tell you. All I know is I have an avalanche of business coming to our office, and it’s not getting any less, it’s growing. … There’s just tons of money coming into this county. All this would do is put us farther behind the eight-ball.”

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.