Digital Communities

Whiteside, Ill.’s New GIS Site Offers More Tools, Saves Money

The application's new property tax inquiry function allows users to get tax bills, foreclosures and other information for specific parcels.

by Pam Eggemeier, Daily Gazette / July 8, 2015

(TNS) — Whiteside County, Ill., has dropped out of Beacon, a public information portal.

The Beacon website is commonly used by the public to access county and city information, public records, and Geographical Information Systems through its portal. It is most often used for maps, and real estate and tax data.

The county dropped Beacon because it has launched its own GIS application on the county website. County GIS Coordinator Lauren Lee said the new service, which is free, will offer more information and tools, as well as save the county money.

“This became part of a software package we were already getting,” Lee said, “so we wanted to move in that direction.”

After the technology became available in fall 2014, Lee used it to set up the site herself.

“We had it up and running in April,” she said, “but not many people know about it yet unless they saw the message on the Beacon site.”

The switch will save the county $10,000 a year in vendor hosting fees that had been paid to The Schneider Corp., developer of the Beacon site.

One advantage of the new application is that it is linked to some county information not available on Beacon. For instance, users can get tax bills, foreclosures, and other information for specific parcels with the wEdge property tax inquiry function.

A basemap gallery also offers three views – aerial, streets, and tax parcels. A measurement tool tracks everything from latitude and longitude to acres, miles, and feet.

The application has drawing tools and layering capabilities for users who need to do mapping for specific purposes. The layers list includes sales, foreclosures, tax parcels, FEMA flood zones, and municipal zoning districts. A print widget exports maps as PDFs.

To get acquainted with the parcel viewer application, users have access to a 12-minute instructional video posted on the county’s website.

To get to the application, go to whiteside.org, hover your cursor over the county information tab, and click the GIS option in the pulldown. Scroll down to Whiteside Maps, under which you’ll find the parcel viewer application. Once the application is launched, the video can be accessed.

GIS is still relatively new to municipalities, and degrees of public access vary.

“Counties have many different solutions,” Lee said, “and only three are using Beacon now.”

One of the three counties is Ogle, and GIS Coordinator Kris Gilbert said her office plans to keep Beacon for a while.

“Not many counties in Illinois have ever used Beacon,” Gilbert said, “and several don’t have much at all for GIS public access.”

While Ogle plans to keep Beacon as its base format, it is also developing variations for specific purposes.

“Beacon can be cumbersome, because all of the information is seen together,” Gilbert said. “We are expanding and using a completely different method to serve municipal bodies so they don’t have to sift through everyone else’s information.”

One municipal request being honoring is for staff working in public utilities.

“We are going to set it up so they can go out in the field and use the GIS format with a tablet or smartphone,” Gilbert said.

Lee County has used The Sidwell Co. for several years to organize its GIS public access information. To get to the site, go to leecountyil.com and click on the GIS/maps tool. Two user categories – guest and professional – are available. However, the site is not compatible with the Google Chrome browser.

Guests can use the site for free by entering a user name and password. The professional use option costs $420 a year.

©2015 the Daily Gazette (Sterling, Ill.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.