When computers someday run the world, a contract that Jacksonville City Hall just awarded could help them track what’s going on in your backyard.
For now, the machines have to content themselves with helping follow what stormwater in the yard is draining over.
The city has hired a Canadian company, Ecopia AI, to use artificial intelligence to analyze aerial photos and map the buildings, trees, sidewalks, swimming pools and all the rest covering 363,272 parcels of Duval County real estate.
The system will break down Jacksonville’s photos into about 24 trillion pixels, each covering a little more than a square inch, then compare the images against more than 20 kinds of land coverings to measure how much of each parcel is covered by impervious material for which the city charges owners a stormwater utility fee.
The findings will be sent to Public Works Department employees who handle assessing the fee, which is tacked onto the yearly property tax bill as a separate charge unrelated to a home’s value.
The fee is based on how much land is covered with buildings and pavement — small impervious areas cost $30 per year, average areas (1,550 to 4,650 square feet) run $60 and bigger ones cost $90 — with separate prices for condos, apartments and mobile homes.
But a 2019 report by City Council auditors found a lot of inconsistencies in how fees were assessed, partly because conditions like gravel and compacted dirt are supposed to be factored into the amounts charged but aren’t recorded on county property-appraisal files.
The city approved a $100,000 contract to analyze records made in 2022, with options to continue the service for two additional years to track new buildings as well as minor changes like new driveways, patios or gravel lots that might not show up on routine property records.
“Ecopia was the most complete, accurate, and up-to-date source of land cover data we found for Duval County, not to mention a fraction of the cost of other datasets,” city Public Works Director Steve Long was quoted saying in a release from Ecopia.
Long said the service, which Ecopia touted as 84 percent cheaper than the closest competitor, “will ensure stormwater utility fee billing is as accurate and efficiently calculated as possible.”
The utility fee, charged to pay for maintaining the city’s stormwater system, was budgeted to raise about $33 million this year.
City officials said there are no plans to use the new data to change the way the fee is billed or create more sophisticated assessments.
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