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City Council examines Geographic Information Systems

Local government officials got a glimpse into the 21st century on Thursday.

A Warren City Council work session – attended by many of the city’s department as well as representatives from the county and other municipalities – was held to hear from staff from the City of Meadville on Meadville’s efforts with GIS – geographic information systems – and what those systems can mean for local government.

Getting such a system off the ground clearly takes voluminous amounts of work – as well as funding.

Andy Walker, Meadville’s city manager, said that Meadville charges fees for use of the stormwater system in the city and noted that those fees funded the GIS program, which commenced in 2012.

Before officials could discuss the GIS system, Councilman John Lewis raised issue with Meadville charging stormwater fees.

Walker said the fee is calculated based on the “impervious area” – where water will run – that a parcel has. “We measure that and we use that as a surrogate for demand on the stormwater system” and “apply a billing value to that,” noting the fee raised $750,000 last year.

Bennett Gould, who coordinates the GIS program for Meadville, said that they were required to have a map of the stormwater system but noted that is just one of the many layers that they can apply to their web-based map.

Other layers Meadville has developed include a paving index for city streets that can show what streets were paved when just a click away, a layer for topography, the ability to update and push road closures or leaf collection dates, a map layer of all the fire hydrant locations.

Other applications include the ability to generate mailing lists for project notifications or for required sexual offender notifications as well as layers for historic districts, subdivisions and rights of way among other items.

Gould said the mapping has “eliminated a lot of call headaches” and can be accessed in the field.

County Planner Dan Glotz said he sees this as a “great tool for the public.”

He explained that those interested in a property could use GIS mapping to see flood plain boundaries, the size of the lot and zoning designations, among other possibilities.

He also noted that the Warren County assessment office uses GIS software and utilizes it daily.

Mayor Maurice Cashman asked how much staff “have to get out and see if the map is correct” and Gould said there is a “good bit of quality control” associated with the program.

Operations Training Officer Steve Hoffman with the city’s fire department noted that “this information, web-based, can be grabbed from anywhere and be completely manipulated. It’s all right there (for) everybody.”

Fire Chief Rodney Wren noted that such a program also results in other city departments as well as outside fire departments “working off of the same map.”

“If it is data you have and it is location-based, you can put it in,” Gould said.

“It’s been very informative,” Cashman said. “A lot, a lot of work that has been put into this… (I) can see the management tool.”

City Manager Nancy Freenock said she “kept looking for the end and it just never came” regarding how the system could be integrated. Walker noted that they are “constantly looking at tools” and “how to make it more efficient.”

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