Pleasing different audiences
Last fall, Stark County, Ohio, launched two GIS Web sites to handle map requests from local surveyors/engineers and real estate professionals. The site for Stark County Engineer Mike Rehfus is the first of its kind in Ohio and complements a sophisticated site developed for County Auditor Brant Luther. Both sites draw information from the county’s enterprise GIS.
Servicing a densely developed area with several large municipalities, Stark County receives many requests for property value, ownership, surveying and engineering information. The county had invested heavily in GIS to support internal government activities; however, it found that a multitude of users in the public and private sectors also needed access. The high demand for information overwhelmed existing staff, but the county could not afford to hire additional employees to fill map requests. Officials began looking for a technological and cost-effective way to ease the process of filling map requests.
After considering a number of ideas, county officials decided to develop an online GIS. County leaders analyzed the people who requested GIS maps and found that most were in one of two categories: land-based users (real estate agents, title researchers, assessors) or surveyors/engineers. They also found that the needs of both groups were diverse. The real estate users required property value, building specifications and tax information. The surveying/engineering users needed control monuments, floodplains and soil information.
County leaders decided to develop two separate online applications, one for each user group. “We believed that a single, one-size-fits-all application would cause the GIS to suffer from a lack of focus,” Luther says. “Too broad of an audience would have limited the ability of the application to serve everyone in the best manner, resulting in inefficiency.”
The county estimated the costs of developing the two applications in house at $34,500. Moreover, it would cost an estimated $60,000 a year to pay the salary and benefits of a programmer.
County officials weighed those figures against a private vendor’s cost quotations of $18,000 per year to host both sites, and officials decided to outsource the sites’ development. “There was no question,” Luther says. “In-house development and maintenance of this particular application at such a high cost did not make sense when we could hire an extended programming staff with a proven track record in hosting real estate information and GIS mapping, yet without the cost of training, support, benefits and equipment.”
In 2003, Stark County contracted with Columbus, Ohio-based Digital Data Technologies to develop the two GIS Web applications. Stark County provided GIS shapefiles, DXF drawing files, and raw and unformatted computer-aided mass appraisal (CAMA) files to the contractor. In three months, the contractor built the Web sites and developed an automatic process for downloading data from the county’s GIS nightly to update the sites.
The engineer’s Web site includes features such as the ability to print to a plotter; generate survey monument datasheets; use polygon, rectangle, point and buffer selection tools; zoom to individual addresses; integrate an unlimited number of layers; and use a measuring tool. The site also features a detour-editing module that allows the county engineer’s staff to add images and descriptions of detours in the county. The auditor’s Web site allows users to integrate the CAMA property database with the GIS; save sales and other advanced search mechanisms; create on-the-fly property sketches; and print property record cards.
When the sites launched, the county invited all of its officials to a meeting to demonstrate the sites’ features and notified the public about the sites on the county home page and the respective departmental home pages. It also notified visitors at each departmental office. Since the sites launched, the county has reduced its call-in and walk-in traffic by 70 percent, and the sites have received 3.46 million hits monthly. “I am thrilled at the incredible amount of positive feedback from all parts of our user community regarding the new Web sites and all the new features we have made available,” Luther says.
He expects the sites will help boost commerce and economic development by making it easier for businesses to develop in the county. “We are continually trying to make improvements to our Web site so that the vital information which government keeps is immediately available in a user-friendly format to the public,” Luther says.