July 1995

Summit County, Ohio, began planning a GIS four years ago that now connects county departments and provides public access.

Level of govt.: County

Function: GIS

Problem/situation: County wanted a GIS for both staff and public access.

Solution: System with user-friendly design.

Jurisdiction: Summit County, Ohio

Vendors: ESRI, PlanGraphics, Woolpert, McCoy Associates Inc.

Contact: Bob McLaughlin, GIS director 216/643-2732.

AKRON, Ohio - For some local governments, setting up public access terminals so residents can print their own property maps or see a listing of previous owners at an address is an afterthought behind internal use of a system. In Summit County, Ohio, however, providing public access to as much of the information as possible has driven the geographic information system's design, funding and development.

"In the past, taxpayers were asked to fund these projects, but they never really could see any tangible benefits," said Bob McLaughlin, county GIS director. "Our system has been planned to meet the GIS needs of county departments and provide information to the public."

As the system is developed and refined, the public's use of it will remain a primary consideration, said McLaughlin. "If you've got the information, why not have a public access terminal where people can display and use it? And why shouldn't the public have upfront advantages to data systems built with their money?" he said.

Planning for a countywide GIS began in 1991 and was guided by the vision of a system that would incorporate and consolidate the current mapping functions in use by several county agencies, and, more important, speed public access to information. When researching property, for instance, residents once visited a tax map room full of hand-drawn E-size tax maps of the county's 240,000 parcels. These were compiled in large books that might be in use or misplaced when requested, or in poor condition.

With the GIS, the county can finally retire those map books. Instead, citizens will use prompts to "drill down" through geography and locate specific parcel maps within minutes. And because the system is linked with an IBM 4381 mainframe housing the county's tax assessment data, users can view and print all kinds of information about the land, including who owns or leases it, its assessed value and measurements, or if there's a septic tank buried on the property.


Keeping the data needs of both its departments and the public in mind, the county enlisted PlanGraphics, a GIS consulting firm based in Frankfort, Ky, to help develop a framework for product selection, testing and implementation. The county reviewed reports in 1992, and an implementation plan was developed and approved the following year.

A three-member GIS Policy Group, consisting of the county executive, auditor and engineer, approved the organizational layout for the GIS. A Technical Advisory/User Group was also formed to provide technical guidance to the Policy Group.

A request for proposal was released in early 1994. ARC/INFO GIS software from Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc., of Redlands, Calif. running on a DEC Alpha AXP server and workstations was selected as the backbone technology.

The Engineering and Environmental Services departments and the Auditor's Office, located in two separate buildings, were initially networked for the system, and a fiber-optic connection was established between an existing IBM mainframe and the DEC server.

ArcView Version 2, an easy-to-use, customizable desktop GIS product from ESRI, was chosen as a "front end" to the public access terminals. The

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