Many counties in Indiana use the Schneider Corporation’s Beacon website as their public GIS interface including Huntington, Kosciusko, Lagrange, Noble, Steuben, Wells and Whitley. I believe Beacon works very well for some communities but isn’t a fit for every situation. Using Beacon was explored as an option for a local online GIS presence at several points during GIS development in DeKalb County but a different direction was chosen for several reasons.
The DeKalb County GIS Partnership is named CoCiGIS (pronounced kō-sē-jis) which is short for County-City GIS. The partnership was formed by the County and the City of Auburn in 1998 with the Cities of Butler and Garrett joining at later dates. Other DeKalb County communities were given opportunities to join but haven’t for various reasons. The CoCiGIS website can be found at www.cocigis.us. The header contains links to information on the GIS Committee (contact info), the partnership (history and some cost information for the initial data development), data and maps, GIS education, news and the required website disclaimer.
Several things went into the decision to develop a locally controlled and hosted GIS website instead of using a third-party host such as the Beacon site. I recall the main concerns being cost, flexibility, adaptability, and efficiency (but not necessarily in that order).
Cost – Research with several other NE Indiana counties indicated a start-up cost for the Beacon website was in the range of $4,000 to $7,000 for the basic site with additional start-up costs for enhancements or modifications the County might need. The hosting cost for the site then ranged from $700 to $1,200 per month ($8,400 to $14,400 per year) in perpetuity. Several factors such as county size, etc appear to affect the start-up and monthly costs. We try to get “double-duty” out of our software and equipment where possible. The servers and software used by CoCiGIS to provide our public site were for the most part already acquired for our own internal uses to provide data to local government offices so the additional costs for our public website have been negligible.
Flexibility - Beacon website users are provided with a single website hosting all the GIS information in a single application. That can be useful for some purposes but the CoCiGIS team identified several instances where a more focused, theme-oriented map would be better. For instance most people other than land surveyors don’t care about the County’s information on the PLSS section corners. Similarly, most people other than those with environmental interests aren’t interested in the location of wetlands and/or soil types. As the number of layers added to the table of contents becomes larger it becomes more time consuming and complex for a casual user to sort through it to find just the particular data they might want to view. By developing and hosting the site locally we can develop as many different mapping applications as necessary to address specific needs and can do so using local staff. Although there are no plans currently on the table, in the future this could possibly extend to specific map applications requested by organizations such as the local economic development partnership, chambers of commerce, civic groups, etc.
Adaptability – By hosting the site locally we can make changes to the map applications as necessary to respond to changing needs and/or requests from our local government users (assuming the data is available and the technology supports the requests). Additionally, if we need to change the structure of a data set to supply more or less information we can do so without requiring a private firm to make changes to the site on their schedule then bill us for the work.
Efficiency – The CoCiGIS team currently develops task-specific maps for various county and city offices. In several instances we have made minor changes to existing maps and used them for other purposes. In other cases we have re-purposes existing data sets and used them to support additional tasks. An example would be the fact that we have been able to use an existing sex offender map (see below) and the buffer data contained therein to also support the County Prosecutor’s drug case prosecution efforts so the map and the data set each serve multiple purposes. Some of those applications also provide information that the public is interested in receiving so those maps can often serve as the basis for a web-map application with little or no modification. And in those cases a very few number of people can create and maintain data that others can electronically consume without the time and effort to update it themselves.The data and maps section of the CoCiGIS website currently has a single link to the parcel mapping application (map accessed via the URL provided by Mike Walters). Additional links are planned and in several cases are already under development. For instance links to the Public Access to Tax Information website and to a GIS-based sex offender residency map should be made available shortly. The PATI application (http://pati.co.dekalb.in.us/default.aspx) provides property tax information for the parcels in the County and is already available through the County Treasurer’s website. The sex offender map (http://gis.cocigis.us/cocigis-sexoffendermap/) shows the location of registered offenders in DeKalb County as they have been reported to the County Sheriff’s Dept. It also shows the location of the 1000’ buffer around certain “protected uses” (schools, public parks, state-registered day care facilities and youth program centers) wherein certain classes of registered offenders are not legally allowed to reside. This information is updated daily through cooperative efforts between the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Dept and the DeKalb County GIS Dept. A floodplain management mapping application is under development. Plans are to show the location of the mapped floodplains in the County and, assuming FEMA can find all the information we have requested, to also show how the mapped information has been subsequently changed by the various Letters of Map Change FEMA has issued. Other applications either planned or under development are environmental maps (floodplains, contours, wetlands, soil types, etc), zoning maps, section corner maps (useful for surveyors) and probably some project specific maps for public comment on projects like the City of Garrett’s upcoming Safe Routes To School planning study. One statewide mapping application has recently been developed on behalf of the Aviation Association of Indiana using local GIS and County Airport staff working on their own time. The aviation map uses a combination of locally hosted GIS information and data hosted by one or more State agencies. It is currently being hosted by CoCiGIS and can be viewed at http://gis.cocigis.us/dekalb-aaimap/.
As with most websites there are things that can and hopefully will be improved. Some are due to technology issues while others are data/resource issues. For instance the printing function takes a little experimenting to get right and even then it’s lacking when compared to the maps we print using the desktop GIS software we use on a daily basis. The other tools may take a little time to learn but the help button in the upper right corner of the screen provides basic instructions. We can also help walk you through the screens so call the County GIS Department at 260-927-2356 if you need further help. And my apologies for the length or the response.
DeKalb County GIS Coordinator