Modernized appraiser's website debuts

mjohnson@bradenton.comJune 12, 2014 

MANATEE -- The Manatee County Property Appraiser's Office no longer expects you to surf its website like it's 1998.

This week, the office unveiled the first major overhaul of the property information website in 16 years. The look is a bit sleeker and the pages move a little faster. But what's really new about the site, manateepao.com, is it contains more data. The maps are more detailed, property information is updated daily instead of weekly, and more property and sales data is now free.

"The beta test did show a smoother interface, more complete information, and a more pleasurable online experience," said John van Zandt, a Realtor with Island Real Estate who was one of a number of professionals who participated in months of beta testing before the site's debut. "More information is better information."

Sharon Barhorst, information technology director for the appraiser's office, said the upgraded site is adapted to the needs of the end user and to personnel within the appraiser's office. The office spent about $15,000 to have Tyler Technologies of Dayton, Ohio, rebuild the site on a DotNetNuke platform. The changes allow appraisal office IT staff members to manage content and make other changes to the site inhouse.

The driving force behind the changes, Barhorst said, is to make more information available on a more timely basis. Free downloads on the site include 165 MB of real property data, a permits file and comprehensive property sales data going back to 2009. A page of addition

al downloads, such as one that lists all properties with the county's approximately 40 CDDs, is available on the site for free for the first time. Previously, much of that data had to be picked up at the appraiser's office in person and requesters had to pay $30 to cover staff time to burn the data to CDs.

The site retains all the property data it has supplied to users for years. Properties can be searched by addresses, owners, sales information, tax information, permits and data about built structures. Overall page design has been modified to make the data more readable, yet similar to the site's previous look.

Another notable change on individual property pages is an improved mapping function that offers more detail and more precise boundary lines.

Eventually, the site will also be able to supply targeted property owner mailing lists and electronic mailing labels to marketers, nonprofit groups, government agencies and other mass mailers. Barhorst said this automated function will not be ready for some time.

New property sales information and other property data is added to the site daily. It uploads automatically overnight, saving about eight hours of staff time every week, Barhorst said. Previously, office personnel had to manually upload information and verify that it had correctly populated to the site.

Office staff also benefit because the website data and presentation generally mirrors the information they can look up on the office's in-house computer system.

"This is really, to me, more than a website," Barhorst said. "It's what we call a web portal."

Work on the site began last December. Prior to its launch this week, the site was beta tested by several groups made up of typical users, including people in the insurance, real estate and legal industries. Both Barhorst and beta tester van Zandt said their experiences with the site have been largely free of bugs.

Users who navigate using Google will notice that some of the links the search engine lists for the appraiser's site are no longer active. Barhorst said Google will refresh search engine connections to the website pages sometime in the next 30 days.

County appraiser Charles Hackney led the effort to revamp the website. He participated directly in the project, assisting in the redesign of the site's home page.

Site users who visit using digital devices invented since the final quarter of the Clinton administration will be able to view the site in formats that automatically adapt to smart phones, tablets and laptops. However, some lovers of older technology won't be as happy. The site's "additional downloads" page is not visible to computers operating on Microsoft Windows XP, a widely used PC operating system that debuted in 2001.

Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.

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