Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

By Will DeMarco
Gazette Reporter 

Whitman County moves to install GIS to manage public data

 

September 6, 2018 | View PDF



After years of consideration, Whitman County is moving to implement a geographic information system (GIS) to better manage and present a wide variety of public data.

GIS is a digital data management system used extensively by local governments across the country for a wide variety of purposes, such as municipal planning, determining property taxes or mapping geographical features. GIS benefits local jurisdictions and their residents through its capability to aggregate and visualize huge amounts of data. Governments can scale the extent and scope of data analyzed through their GIS depending on the needs and budgetary limitations specific to their district.

Commissioner Art Swannack stressed the need for such a system, saying Whitman County is one of a select few jurisdictions without a comprehensive GIS framework in place.

“We need to be on the same platform as everybody around us,” Swannack stated.

Whitman County’s “ultimate goal” in developing the system is to create a cohesive platform where local residents, businesses and state regulatory groups can easily access crucial county information, such as property assessments and road data, explained Public Works Director Mark Storey.

According to Swannack, the improved transparency the proposed GIS offers would also bolster the county’s economic prospects by providing streamlined access to real estate values for residents and potential business owners. Additionally, Swannack said the system would increase the efficiency of departments such as the County Assessor’s Office by aggregating and digitizing information currently provided to the public in physical form.

Storey announced during last week’s commissioner’s meeting the department’s GIS committee plans to present the board recommendations for the forthcoming GIS in about two weeks.

The GIS committee includes Storey, County Assessor Robin Jones and IT Director Chris Nelson. Originally formed when the county first considered implementing GIS in 2015, the committee remained dormant until recently. Swannack said pressure from state agencies and local constituents to develop such a system has sharply increased since the committee’s inception, adding that the county is now in a more feasible financial situation to fund a GIS project than it was three years ago.

“We’re at a point now where it’s becoming essential rather than optional,” Swannack stated.

Separate from last week’s decision, Pullman recently began developing GIS mapping for the city. The process is expected to finish in nine months, when it will be turned over for Whitman County to manage.

Storey recommended the county solicit bids for the creation of a countywide parcel layer. Whitman County has approximately 40,000 parcels (or private properties) in total, Storey said. He predicted a cost between $500,000 and $750,000 to develop the initial partial layer.

To implement the GIS, Storey recommended using software called ArcGIS at an estimated cost of $3,000 per year for licensing and maintenance. The county’s IT Department 2018 budget currently has $165,000 set aside to hire a consultant to begin work on the parcel layer.

The county’s GIS information should be ready for public access in one-and-a-half to two years, Storey predicted, but stressed that this is a rough estimate. Once the framework is developed, it will need ongoing management to remain accurate. Storey said this will require the county to hire at least one, if not more people, to ensure data stays current.

Asotin County plans to host an ArcGIS training session for its Public Works employees next month and offered to let department members from Whitman County participate at a cost on par with their own, around $300 a person.

The session would be a “huge” asset to local employees and would spare the county excessive travel expenses, Storey explained, which they would otherwise be forced to spend so employees could attend similar trainings in Seattle or Los Angeles.

Asotin County also offered to help Whitman County in its contract bidding process. Whitman County plans to send two to three Public Works personnel to the training, Storey said.

 
 

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