The Ventura County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 at its Dec. 18 meeting to hire a company to provide digital aerial photographs of South County homes to help with tax assessment and emergency services.

Pictometry International Corporation will use its airplane scanners to do a flyby of local homes some time between Dec. 28 and Jan. 8, 2008, said Laurie Kurilla, county geographic information officer.

The imaging services and software viewing equipment will cost the county $158,000.

“I’m delighted,” Kurilla said. “The tax assessor’s office is just going to be the first to use the technology.”

Many county agencies will benefit from the imaging technology, including law enforcement agencies, disaster response teams and the public works office, Kurilla said.

“It is believed that this imagery and viewing software will provide considerable benefit to the assessor’s office,” she said, explaining that the digital images will improve the accuracy and efficiency of tax assessments.

Several California communities, including Los Angeles and Orange counties, already use aerial digital imaging, Kurilla said.

In addition to the initial flyover, Pictometry will provide free imaging services to the county after a federal-or state-declared natural disaster, in the event of another emergency like the La Conchita mudslides in 2005.

Chair of the Board and 2nd District Supervisor Linda Parks asked if there were other more cost-effective ways to provide aerial images of county homes and businesses.

“It seems like there’s so many different sources out there with imaging technology,” Parks said.

Kurilla said the contracted services will provide higher resolution images than are available elsewhere and the date the pictures are taken by Pictometry will coincide with the Jan. 1 tax assessment period.

In incorporated areas the images, taken from 1,500 feet above the county, will have a three-inch-resolution and in unincorporated areas the images will be taken at an eight-inch-resolution. Pictures taken at a three-inch-resolution, for example, will enable viewers to see the model of a car on the street, but they will not be able to make out the license plate number, Kurilla said. Using another example, she said the images will show what color of clothing a person is wearing, but will not show the person’s face clearly.

Parks also raised concerns that the imaging might interfere with residents’ privacy.

Kurilla said the county will develop a data usage policy to protect the photographs from being misused.

The images will likely become outdated after a few years and to take them again would incur more costs on the county, Parks added.

Kurilla said the tax assessor’s office and other county agencies hope to have funds available to retake the photos every three years. She said that the price of the imaging services has dropped dramatically over the past seven years, since the county first became interested in using aerial photography for tax assessment.

“The assessor’s office is going to have the most up-to-date information,” Parks said, applauding the office for working to provide better tax assessments.

The Board of Supervisors also took steps Dec. 18 to implement a Countywide Trauma System to assist area doctors in coordinating emergency medical services for patients who have been in severe accidents or who have gunshot, stab or burn wounds. The board accepted a report from the county Public Health and Emergency Medical Services departments that detailed the need for a cohesive trauma system.

Barry Fisher, EMS administrator, said area health officials are working to put together a plan for a trauma system that they will present to the board in the next six to 18 months.

“It’s information technology that’s going to be a big key for establishing a trauma system in our county,” he said.

To explain why a trauma system is needed in the county, Fisher cited a case where a local carpenter who had severed a tendon in his hand was not able to get help in time to save his hand because his doctor did not have a surgical network set-up with hospitals outside Ventura County that could perform complex surgeries like the one the carpenter needed.

“Unfortunately, a few hours elapsed and that carpenter lost the use of his hand, the lifeblood of his profession,” Fisher explained.

The board also held two lengthy closed sessions to discuss hiring a new county chief executive officer. The board did not make any formal decisions on the matter at the meeting and opted to discuss it further during a Dec. 19 closed session.