County growing GIS system for customer convenience
By Jeff Schultz Post-Tribune correspondent September 11, 2011 10:04PM
Updated: November 9, 2011 2:38PM
VALPARAISO — Porter County department heads are improving customer service as they move their offices into the digital age.
County Auditor Bob Wichlinski leads the team of elected officials whose goal is to provide an online environment in which Porter County taxpayers can find information regarding their property through the county’s Geographic Information System, or GIS, featured on the county website.
After the County Council put up the money for a total quality management plan in March, Wichlinski and his GIS Department set out to add more layers to the GIS.
Taxpayers can get an aerial view of their property, and the GIS now lets the user see his or her parcel number, taxing unit, legal drains or ditches, congressional and state districts, township voting district and location of polling place.
Previously, users had to navigate a series of inquiries on their web browsers, but now can access the information just by entering a name or address.
“One thing for sure; the system has to be user-friendly,” Wichlinski said.
More GIS enhancements will be added, with help from other departments. The system uses LIDAR imaging to produce maps, but might soon be replaced by the new Pictometry software acquired this month by the assessor’s office. Wichlinski and County Assessor Jon Snyder said it uses sharper, more precise images.
Snyder and chief deputy assessor Daniel Timm said they will make their Pictometry images available for county municipalities. A two-year contract for the software was signed by county commissioners Tuesday for $138,500.
E-government, with the help of GIS, also can be programmed to call up any deed or title from records of the county recorder’s office.
“The goal is trying to take four mouse clicks down to two,” said County Recorder Jon Miller.
He said statutory pricing for printing documents still will apply, but the user can pay the fee online without visiting the recorder office.
Although all the offices are making progress at a faster rate than the county has seen before, Wichlinski said it will still be a while before the county can conduct all of its services online.
“We would like to make it happen tomorrow, but it is a very long process,” he said.
The county offices will, of course, continue to conduct face-to-face business, he said, but some residents’ schedules don’t allow them the time to travel to the county building in downtown Valparaiso. E-government could serve that demographic without affecting the quality of service provided by county employees.
“We’re not hiding behind email, GIS or automated phone systems,” Wichlinski said. “It’s about getting everyone in a format, in a context they are comfortable with.”