Review finds waste, errors in county’s handling of GIS data

Posted 1/9/20

The Park County government has been wasting thousands of dollars a year on geographic information system (GIS) software it doesn’t use and its GIS data sets contain thousands of errors, an …

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Review finds waste, errors in county’s handling of GIS data


The Park County government has been wasting thousands of dollars a year on geographic information system (GIS) software it doesn’t use and its GIS data sets contain thousands of errors, an outside consultant concluded in a recent review.

Park County commissioners hired T-O Engineers to analyze the county’s GIS needs last year, after hearing concerns from staff.

One of the things that T-O Engineers found right away was that multiple GIS software licenses were “unassigned.”

“Right there, that’s $5,800 that’s being spent per year on licenses that are not being used by the county at this time,” Brian Clarkson, a geospatial services manager at T-O Engineers, told commissioners on Dec. 17.

Further, there are other licenses that aren’t being fully utilized and could be terminated, Clarkson said. T-O Engineers suggested the county drop roughly half of its licenses in total, saving about $10,700 annually.

The firm also recommended that the county employ a GIS manager “to train staff, develop standards, incorporate quality control, and provide the County with a direction for the continued development and implementation of the GIS.”

GIS data is basically information tied to a specific geographic point; it can lay out the boundaries of a parcel of land or voting district on a map, pinpoint the location of a road, river or stop sign, etc.

Within the county government, the assessor’s office, public works department, and planning and zoning department all maintain their own GIS data tables. T-O Engineers found “critical discrepancies” between them. For instance, each data table contains different numbers of acres, parcels of land, miles of road and addresses. One data set is off by about 4 feet, Clarkson said.

Depending on the data table, the review found 1,776 to 1,996 overlap errors (where one parcel of land overlaps with another) and 2,312 to 2,544 gap errors (where two parcels don’t meet on the map).

“There’s a lot of errors,” Clarkson told commissioners, adding that, “It’s going to take a lot of work to get that resolved.”

In interviews with county staffers, T-O Engineers heard that a lack of communication between departments contributed to the inconsistencies. They also noted that departments are using different software: The assessor’s office has been using a 10-year-old version of MapInfo while the planning and zoning and public works departments use ArcGIS. Converting data from one software program to another can be an issue. The report describes a process in which data from the public works department is converted from a feature class to a shapefile when updates are sent to the assessor’s office. The assessor’s office then converts the data into a TAB file, but it’s eventually converted back into a shapefile and then a feature class again to be stored in the public works database.

Trapper Marsh, operations manager in the public works department, reportedly told T-O Engineers that he “is very concerned about possible data corruption as a result of the multiple data conversions.”

As an example of the significance of the discrepancies and errors, the report notes that the data is used by dispatchers with the Park County Sheriff’s Office, as they direct ambulances, fire trucks and law enforcement officers to a particular address.

“The accuracy of this information is critical to the responsiveness of the county’s emergency services,” the report said.

T-O Engineers recommended that a centralized database be established, overseen by a manager.

Those duties could theoretically be taken on by an existing employee, an outside contractor or a new part- or full-time position.

“There’s definitely a lot of work up front to get things standardized and on the correct path moving forward,” Clarkson said. But after a couple years of work, he said there might not be enough work for a full-time GIS manager.

Commissioners did not appear eager to add a new employee to the county’s strained budget — especially when it was suggested a full-time hire might fetch a salary between $75,000 and $100,000, plus benefits.

Commissioner Lloyd Thiel said he was “really struggling” with the idea of adding another employee or consultant and “growing government.” He wanted to know how the county would save money if it added the position, noting the county is able to function with its current setup.

County Planning Director Joy Hill responded that having a GIS manager would make her department’s work easier and more efficient.

“My office struggles every day just trying to get through with what we have,” she said, adding, “Yes, we’re functioning, but honestly, we’re functioning badly.”

Commissioners didn’t take any immediate action. Assessor Pat Meyer said his office would like to make its own presentation on the county’s GIS data at a later date.

“There’s not as many errors as it’s claimed to be,” said Joy Gonion, the office’s GIS specialist.

Park County paid T-O Engineers $9,800 to conduct the needs assessment.

“We’re going to save $10,000 if we do nothing” other than canceling the unused and underutilized software licenses, said Commission Chairman Jake Fulkerson. “So the study has paid for itself now.”