We’re Not in Kansas Anymore – GIS as a Core County Service: A commentary By Chuck Forss, GIS Project Manager, Technology Services, Morrison County
Last week the Morrison County Auditor’s Office closed their customer window, sending any foot traffic to the combined Auditor-Treasurer’s Office or the Recorder’s Office. Impacts from a GIS system?… Maybe.
I thought empty hallways here were from the recession….maybe not. Empty hallways and rising use of the county’s online land-records viewer are evidence that technology has provided an alternative to the drive to the Government Center. You could claim it to also be evidence that GIS’ers, and others involved in building the data, have the busiest customer-service counter in the building, or at the virtual counter anyway.
Traditional processes used by many departments now start with GIS technology. Instead of digging for the dog-eared plat book, FIRM flood maps, DOQQ printouts or other paper, county customers use online land use permit programs, Next-Generation 911, and scanned images of most land and personal documents, and they pay with credit cards.
We have imagery so close and clear you can read a delivery truck’s logo. This could be leading to possible future legislation allowing a visit to the current electronic imagery and permits as an acceptable “site visit” by County Assessors. Elevations available are so accurate even FEMA accepts them. And of course there’s always the open source GeoMoose v2.2 to build a website application if you can’t afford an ArcGIS Server license.
GIS technology and process innovation are moving so fast that counties with a smaller tax base have difficulty keeping up not only with the fiscal demands that GIS presents but they also can’t expand staff due to the slumping economy and its effects on potential revenues. Many GIS departments are wrangling for a bigger piece of the county’s budget, charging for various products and lobbying for a portion of the other available legislated funds, competing with others for the same.
GIS has moved to the mainstream. County departments now take the technology for granted as their (and taxpayer) expectations for products and performance grow. Recent analysis of the usage reports generated from our online land records viewer (Beacon) was a surprise not only to me, but also a wake-up call to those not on board with the technology. January 2011 usage showed 31,135 map requests, 9,188 report requests, and 6,782 searches, using 35 of the 37 GIS layers available on Morrison County’s site. I didn’t look at the online requests for imaged documents, but the paid subscriber count now is crossing the 400 mark. No wonder it’s quiet in the hallways. But at my desk, it’s busier than ever.
GIS is included now more than ever in the decision-making process for local governments. It also factors into accuracy standards, hence the need for disclaimers.
A few questions I struggle with daily are below. If you have any solutions, let me know.
How do we (an average rural county)
share the data for the public good
recoup the extraordinary development/maintenance costs
weigh the commercial value in today’s world
engage GIS staff as sales people or
fund the technology through the general levy?
The truth is, we (the public) can’t get along without it anymore!
It’s true, we’re not in Kansas anymore and yes there is no place like home. But the future sure looks different in 2011.
Morrison County is located in north central Minnesota, between two regional centers, St. Cloud and Brainerd. It is home to Camp Ripley, the State’s National Guard Training Center. Its population is approximately 33,000, the county seat is Little Falls, and the county area is 737,686 acres.