Aerial photography no longer free

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By Claude Lewis

Seems things that were once free are disappearing quickly.

No more free air or water at the filling station. No more free luggage bags on airlines.

For Levy County Property Appraiser Francis Akins, it's no more free aerial photography.

A shocked Akins revealed to County Commissioners Tuesday that the Florida Department of Revenue has suddenly decided to bill counties with populations more than 25,000 for the aerial shots that are vital to appraisers, realtors, insurers and bankers.

We're not talking petty cash, either.

Akins said it will cost more than $45,000 a year or over $137,000 every three years, depending on the payment plan of choice.

To boot, the Department of Revenue wants a reply by July 1.

"It seems like a lot of money to put out for something we were getting free," Akins said. "It's a service people have to depend on. It's a good tool to plot land. You can find people building without permits. It's valuable in disasters (hurricanes, tornadoes, etc.)."

Akins will be busy on the phone before the next county commission meeting, looking for options.

"I'm going to call around and talk to different counties," he said. "I talked to one in South Florida who is having SWIFTMUD pay for his."

Water management districts also need aerial photography to chart rivers, lakes, ponds, swamps and watersheds.

There are two water management districts covering Levy County - SWIFTMUD to the south and Suwannee to the north.

Piggy-backing with them could possibly save big bucks.

Counties are photographed from 5,000 feet every three years. The airplanes fly January through March.

Levy was photographed just this past winter. Its next shooting is due in 2011.