The City of South Burlington says "the future is changing, and we all have to move along with it."
South Burlington, Vermont, is experimenting with a new kind real estate registry that uses blockchain, the technology behind cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, to record property transactions.
The city announced the pilot program Monday in a joint release with a Palo Alto, California-based startup called Propy. The program aims to use blockchain, which uses a distributed ledger to accurately and securely track transactions, to save money for the city by eliminating paper processes while also increasing the security of its record keeping.
In an interview with StateScoop, Donna Kinville, South Burlington's city clerk, said that the startup had approached the city about a potential pilot and she and the City Manager Kevin Dorn wanted to explore possible solutions.
"We didn't go out looking for this, but we're always looking for new ways to improve services as long it follows state guidelines," Kinville said. "We know the future is changing, and we all have to move along with it, so this is kind of our way of putting our little toe in the water and seeing what that future holds."
In the pilot, Kinville will work with the startup to design a platform that will enable the city to quickly pull up the transaction history on properties in a single database. This will happen gradually, she said. First efforts will have only a few properties added to the blockchain registry, and then if all goes well, the city could move forward on a system that could record all property details using the new system.
Kinville said this would assist both residents and staff since the platform would eliminate the added work to verify and process typical paper documents and forms.
Because blockchain works using a distributed ledger held by many clients, it is also expected to make the records more secure from accidental or fraudulent alteration.
Beyond the immediate benefits to the city, the blockchain project has potential to help the state to further its development of the technology.
Michael Schirling, Vermont's secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, said the work presents a persuasive example of how blockchain can be used in a practical way.
"The announcement of a pilot project to utilize blockchain technology in real estate transactions is emblematic of Vermont's long history of innovating business, insurance, and financial technology," Schirling said. "We are fortunate to have a cutting-edge statutory framework that enables the use of blockchain technology, and we will continue to work with the legislature to ensure Vermont remains at the forefront of these innovations."
In 2016, Vermont passed legislation that made blockchain records admissible in court cases. And in June 2017, Gov. Phill Scott signed a piece of legislation from the Senate that recognized the legal and economic implications of blockchain while calling on state officials to partner with researchers to investigate the technology further.