Artificial intelligence to calculate Jacksonville stormwater fee

Artificial intelligence to calculate Jacksonville stormwater fee

Ecopia AI will use aerial photos like this, sent to the company by Jacksonville officials, to identify land cover for the office that assesses the city's stormwater utility fee.

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.

A Jacksonville stormwater utility division truck crosses floodwaters to reach a blocked drain in Mandarin after a nor'easter in this 2009 photo.

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.

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