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County GIS is in need of operator

Friday, April 8, 2005

(Photo)
Matt Sorenson from Midland GIS Solutions demonstrates some of the capabilities of the Mississippi County geographic information system.
CHARLESTON - Mississippi County's geographic information system has a wealth of untapped uses, according to its vendor. What it needs is an operator.

Mississippi County commissioners met with Don Hagan and Matt Sorenson from Midland GIS Solutions of Sunrise Beach during their regular meeting Thursday.

Using computers to link aerial photography, graphic overlays and data, a GIS enables users to easily access, display and manipulate data.

Assessor office staff still aren't taking full advantage of the GIS, according to the Midland representative.

The mapper has been entering parcel splits but then inking splits on the old paper maps.

"You don't have to manually do anything anymore," Sorenson said. Assessor staff are not aware of "the power of the GIS system and what it can do," he said adding a new map with the parcel split can be printed out for pennies.

Midland does need to set it up so the ownership database automatically dumps data into the main database, Sorenson said, as parcel ownership data has apparently not been updated.

Sorenson presented county officials with several map printouts. On one map, property values were shown using color coding; on another map, voting precinct boundaries were shown. "They can plot this out any time," Sorensen said of the maps.

Additionally, data is linked so a print out of registered voters, for example, could be made from the voting district information layer.

The system was designed to be as simple as possible, Sorenson said. Within about 15-20 minutes, Midland GIS techs can walk county staff through most of the functions available on the system and can also hook in via remote access, he assured.

Among the maps presented were some showing soil grades at different zooms.

An official from the State Tax Commission "has approved our process and how we're doing it," Sorenson said of the soil grade information layer.

Soils are graded on a scale of 1-8 with 1 being the most valuable, Sorenson said. The soil type and the slope of the land are both considered, according to Sorenson, and forested land is automatically graded lower.

In New Madrid County, land east of the levee is automatically docked one grade. "Understand, it's the best soil in the county, but it's hampered by flooding," Commissioner Homer Oliver said of Mississippi County's land located east of the levee.

Soil grades are set by the assessor "because it changes," Sorenson explained, as land is leveled, cleared or otherwise improved. In Mississippi County, "almost the entire county is grade 1, 2 or 3."

Like other information layers, the soil grades can be edited, Sorenson said. "It's all editable."

Sorenson said County Assessor W.R. "Bill" Thompson wanted the soil grade layer to be the same as New Madrid County's. When Midland was done, Thompson said it wasn't right, so Midland technicians did some more research and did it again, Sorenson said.

"We did it twice, offered to do it a third time," Sorenson said of the soil layer.

Different soil types can all end up under the same soil grade but soil type is a good indicator of what grade it could or should be, Hagan said. Value, however, is actually based on productivity not soil type.

Commissioner Martin Lucas asked Sorenson to check on a section of the base map where Thompson advised the levee did not appear to be in the right place, but when Sorenson pulled it up for commissioners it appeared to be OK.

Sorenson said Thompson knows the basics, such as how to turn it on and find parcel information, but what the county needs is someone to run the GIS full time, someone who will embrace it and consult with Midland techs to learn all its capabilities, to works with it and learn something new about it every day.

Hagan said when a county has a GIS, "it should be used continuously."

Additionally, Midland officials assured there is no reason why adding E-911 data to the GIS should be held up by anything to do with the soil grade layer.

Sorenson said moving a cursor along a road's centerline on the GIS map will tell you what the address should be.

"We're looking forward to continuing to work with the county," Sorenson said.

"For what it's worth, I feel like you've all done a super job," Lucas said.

"Someone has got to learn the system over there," Presiding Commissioner Jim Blumenberg said.

Thompson reportedly opted not to attend the meeting even though he was asked to because he didn't want to argue with the Midland GIS representatives.

"He'll be here next week to explain his side," Blumenberg said.

The STC official invited to attend advised he had another appointment and could not make the meeting.