Island County makes strides toward GIS system completion

It’s a rare moment when all three Island County commissioners are silent and enwrapped.

Just such a moment was witnessed as Public Works staff unveiled a first glimpse of the county’s long-awaited Geographical Information System (or GIS) at a recent work session.

“This is really cool,” Public Works Director Bill Oakes told commissioners.

The system will give the public all kinds of county information — including property ownership, assessment information and zoning guidelines — superimposed over satellite image technology. While not scheduled to go online until the end of the year, commissioners were able to play with an early rendition of the program at a work session this month and they didn’t seem to want to stop.

“We should just cancel the rest of the day,” joked Commissioner Jill Johnson.

Public works was allotted $143,000 in the 2015 budget for the development of a GIS system, which includes a coordinator position, equipment and licensing.

“I’m so excited, Bill; we’re finally here,” Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said. “We’ve talked about this and worked on this for a long time.”

In addition to putting county planning and assessment data at the public’s fingertips, the Esri GIS system will allow the county to better manage geographical data and improve communication with customers and between departments, Oakes said.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Oakes said Tuesday. “I’ve been trying to drag this into reality for a long time.”

Roads information, topography and property images will also be available, Oakes said.

This will be especially helpful for county staff who will be able to access information immediately that would have taken them a lot of time to research.

For instance, when county commissioners request the number of properties zoned as commercial agriculture, it would take “several worker days,” Oakes said. And if Oakes’ staff needs to know the width of a certain road, they would have to go out and measure it.

With the GIS system in place, both these queries could be answered within minutes.

Loading the information and keeping it updated will be a shared responsibility of public works, the assessor’s office and planning, Oakes said.

While the county is now in the infancy of loading the layers of information into the GIS system, it is the goal of the county to have the virtual “map room” available at the end of the year.

“This is one of the coolest things we’ve made available to the citizens of Island County in a really long time,” Price Johnson said.