County mulls mapping service

Budget-strapped Island County, Wash. — composed of eight islands on Puget Sound about 25 miles north of Seattle — is testing a Web-based, interactive mapping service instead of using a more expensive in-house set-up.

The deal for Syncline Inc.'s MapCiti service would enable the county (www.islandcounty.net) to offer geographic information system data to the public and manage records internally. Using MapCiti, government workers can upload GIS data directly to the company's servers.

Michael Schechter, the county's assistant planner, said it would be too difficult and expensive to operate a GIS database in-house. He estimated that start-up costs would be about $100,000, not including $40,000 to $50,000 annually for a dedicated employee. MapCiti provides the same service for about a fifth of that cost, he said.

The county, which has a population of 71,000, provides static zoning and aerial maps on the Internet, but Schechter called that application a stopgap measure. With MapCiti, he said county planners could overlay different sets of information and instantly do queries. Also, he said they would save money on developing and duplicating paper maps, be able to quickly send out notices to residents affected by proposed developments and cut training costs.

He said the planning department often helps people find information about properties or their communities, which takes up staff members' time. With the interactive service, residents with Internet access "will be able to get that information at home, process it and come to us with really good questions."

Most residents live on the county's two largest islands, Whidbey and Camano. Five of the islands are basically uninhabited. But when it comes to mapping, the county has to consider 200 miles of shoreline, marine and wildlife habitats, salt-water intrusion problems, archaeological sites and bald eagle nesting areas, he said. For the trial period, Schechter said the county would focus on a community called Freeland, which is being rezoned to control its growth. When maps are posted on the site, Freeland residents, who he said are very involved and technologically savvy, would provide feedback on whether MapCiti was useful.

County officials intend to decide by the end of the year whether to continue with MapCiti, he said.

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