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Map system getting boost

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Bartholomew County has plans to continue improving its year-old online mapping system, including a major upgrade in the next few months.

The system currently provides detailed maps, aerial photography and public records on property to users through its Web interface. The information is presented on different layers a user can turn on or off.

The system has about 40 layers available to the public now, including city and county council districts, voting precincts, neighborhoods and soil types. Several layers have been brought on since the system started, including contour lines and scans of property tax bills, said Jeff Lucas, head of the county surveyor’s office GIS mapping division.

There are also three years’ worth of aerial photography in the system, most recently shot in 2011, Lucas said.

The county is almost ready to bring online several new layers, including zoning boundaries, the People Trails and ColumBUS routes, Lucas said.

The county contracted with 39 Degrees North, a Bloomington company, for the service. The annual cost for the system is $55,000, which is split between the county surveyor, county highway, city engineering, city and county planning, metropolitan planning and city utility departments, said Jim Hartsook, the county’s director of information technology.

Although there is a large mass of data available to the public, county offices also are using the system internally. As an example, Lucas said the engineering and highway departments have a work-order system in place they can use to direct employees to jobs.

“I will put a point on the map on the GIS, and it has a little form there where you can put information about it, whether it is a pothole or a (traffic) sign down,” Lucas said.

The system updates nightly for much of the data, including property transfers and sales. Digital copies of physical records, such as property cards and tax bills, are updated once a year, Lucas said. The system gathers data from various county offices and interfaces with the county emergency operations center computers.

“They are much more linked than the old system,” Hartsook said. “The old system used to be totally independent and a re-creation of what GIS was, and now it is just a feed into their map system.”

Hartsook said the system has both a paid and free app through the Android Play Store to access the database. There is not yet an application for Apple devices, but one is in development, he said.

The county expects the system to be upgraded to a new version near the end of April. Among the upgraded features will be fuzzy searches, which allow the system to make better guesses at what a user is trying to find, Lucas said.

For example, a search for The Republic at either “333 Second St.” or “333 Second Street” will return no results now, because the system only recognizes “333 2nd ST.” With the upgrade, all three searches should find the address.

The upgraded system also is supposed to be more user-friendly, Lucas and Hartsook said. Now, changing layers requires clicking onto a “map contents” button, where the new interface will list all of the layers down the left side of the page. Hartsook said it will have customizable elements to help individual users.

“It will be a totally different interface from what the users experience now,” Hartsook said.

Once the new version of the system is online, the county will hold public training sessions to walk people through the changes and upgrades. Trainings last year in February and November drew about 250 people, Hartsook said.

Lucas encourages users to click on the “feedback” button on the site to send suggestions or concerns to the developers.

“Having worked with 39 Degrees North for about a year now, my experience is that they are very responsive, and they do pay attention to the feedback they get,” Lucas said. “I would encourage people to take advantage of that.”

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