Last week, I attended multiple events at the Big Sky GeoCon GIS conference in Helena that were about Montana Cadastral data. Cadastral data is the information about rights and interest in land. Nearly all real estate professionals in Montana, and many others, regularly use the Montana Cadastral Mapping Project which is a web map application that has been developed and maintained by the Montana State Library. Thank you to everyone who sent me questions and comments ahead of time. I will attempt to summarize some of the new information I learned.
The first thing to understand is that the parcel data in the Montana Cadastral Mapping Project is based on Montana Department of Revenue (DOR) data, and is NOT designed to be a land records system. The data is collected and maintained solely for the purposes of property tax assessment. There is no mandate for this data to be made available as a land records system. The Montana State Library developed the Cadastral web map application and included the DOR parcel data for the benefit of all Montanans, which has been an incredibly progressive and successful initiative. Very few states in the entire country have such a state-wide cadastral system.
In Montana's last budget cycle, both the DOR and State Library have experienced dramatic budget cuts. Every county used to have DOR staff to manage assessment and parcel data, but now many counties have to share DOR staff. This has already negatively affected the amount and timeliness of data collected and entered. Also, the State Library has seen cuts with multiple GIS positions lost. It appears evident that the the quality and timeliness of the data in the Cadastral Project is likely to diminish for the foreseeable future.
One of the main questions I have been asked, it how to address errors in the map app. If the issue is data errors in the property record card, you must contact your local DOR staff responsible for that county. Only DOR staff can address property card data errors. Here is a contact link for sending messages to DOR. If there is a problem with the map application itself, contact Montana State Library Staff here. As to parcel boundary issues, parcel boundaries are updated in multiple ways. Some are updated from surveys done by surveyors. This can either be from private surveys where the surveyor files corner points at the county Clerk and Recorders office, or occasionally the State Library puts out a grant for surveyors to update control points for a certain area. Also, DOR cartographers update parcel lines. One thing real estate professionals can do, is if you are involved in a project that involves a survey, encourage the surveyor to file corners with known coordinates at the county Clerk and Recorders office. This will eventually contribute to updated parcel lines.
It behooves all of us in the rural real estate industry to be knowledgeable about the cadastral data we rely on, and also to be active in advocating for its use and development. As individuals and organizations we need to let our legislators know that this data is valuable and a cost-effective use of government funds.