Commissioners Support New GIS Policies

SNOW HILL — Due to rising demand for Geographic Information System (GIS) data and maps by private sources, Worcester County officially adopted a set of GIS policies and procedures this week.

The majority of the County Commissioners agreed to adopt the original policies suggested by the Department of Development Review and Permitting. However, two commissioners unsuccessfully argued about lowering costs to private individuals seeking GIS information, with one commissioner saying that the current prices feel like the county is gouging developers.

Worcester’s use of GIS technology for data collection and land-mapping began in the mid-1990’s. As the technology progressed and the maps became more detailed, Ed Tudor, director of Development Review and Permitting, explained that the information became sought after by the private sector.

“In the last several years, requests for information and products have grown exponentially,” he wrote in a memo to the commission.

Because of the increasing demand and because collecting the data used for any GIS work represents an investment of staff time and effort, Tudor recommended establishing an official policy and applying the rates suggested by Kelly Henry, Technical Services Manager for Development Review and Permitting. Maps will range in size from 8.5 inches by 11 inches to 42 inches by 42 inches and cost between $2.50 and $35. A $50 per hour research fee will be applied to any requests for GIS information, with the first hour not billed under the fee. Finally, all data layers released will cost $250 per layer or tile.

Commissioners Jim Bunting and Virgil Shockley both had issues with the layer costs. Bunting acknowledged that a lot of work goes into collecting GIS data for land in Worcester and that it did represent a significant drain on staff time. However, he pointed out that once the information was in the system it was easy for the county to supply copies at little cost.

“Once it’s there, it’s just the flip of a button,” said Bunting.
Developers might be getting mixed signals through such a policy, argued Shockley.

“Why nickel and dime a developer to death when he’s going to spend millions building something and you’re going to get the assessed value on it and you’re going to get jobs?” he asked.

Worcester is waving developers into the area with one hand, added Shockley, while using the other to remind them to bring their check books.

Bunting suggested that requests for an initial data layer be billed at $250 while subsequent layers would only cost $100 each, a motion seconded by Shockley. The other five commissioners, however, disagreed that the prices were excessive.

“That’s the cost of doing business,” said Commissioner Louise Gulyas.

Commissioner Judy Boggs told Tudor that a standard GIS policy is necessary to keep up with the march of technological progress and that the prices seem reasonable to recoup some of the costs incurred by staff.

“I really think this is much needed and well-done because technology has moved faster than anybody built it to catch up with and do all of these things and I want to point out that I don’t believe this is done to make money,” Boggs said. “This is done to support our costs for all of this, correct?”

Tudor confirmed that was true and that keeping up with GIS data is always ongoing. The $250 price is in-line with the state average as well, noted Henry.

The commissioners voted 5-2 with Shockley and Bunting opposed to establish the new GIS policy.