Funding presents rocky road for county map system

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   County and city officials are hoping not to take a wrong turn in determining how to come up with $89,600 in matching dollars to fund a mapping program for the entire county.
   Created by the state's Office of Information Resources, the Tennessee Base Mapping Program provides a comprehensive digital base map for an entire county compatible with most geographic information systems (GIS). Basic data incorporated into the map includes city streets and county roads, geographic topography, and waterways through the county.
   "We can divide this up into two budget years," County Mayor Dale Fair told a veritable who's who of city and county officials gathered at the workshop held Monday afternoon in the Carter County Health Department Annex.
   Representatives from the city of Elizabethton, Carter County Rescue Squad, Elizabethton Electric System, County Assessor of Property's Office and Atmos Energy Company were on hand as Fair described potential funding scenarios.
   Creating the mapping system requires a participating municipality to provide matching dollars of 25 percent, or $89,600, to fund the estimated $358,000 total price tag for the creation of Carter County's map and maintenance by the state.
   Fair said he envisioned the city, county and possibly EES contributing $9,000 this year and next year to fund the match. Other entities such as the county's 911 District and EMS could add up to $4,500 in each of the next two years. The county's independent utility districts and volunteer fire departments could add $500 this year and next, he said.
   The base map consists of Digital Ortho Imagery and digital parcel database. The map would permit the county tax assessor and trustee to locate the approximately 31,000 parcels of property lying within Carter County.
   A digital ortho map contains aerial photographs processed to correct for scale variations and image displacement to calculate the position of objects appearing on the image represented in their true position. The map's scale is 1 inch to 100 feet in the city and 1 inch to 400 feet in the county.
   The map becomes the base for "value-added layers" identifying landmarks, buildings and municipal infrastructures such as water and sewer lines, utility poles, as well as natural gas lines. The map is compatible with most GIS software including ERSI, regarded as the bible of geographic information systems software.
   Each participating entity would add details specific to its operational needs. Agencies would likely incur additional costs by creating map layers that identified their needs and using a computer system sufficient to access the map.
   If the funding happens, the mapping system is not likely to come on-line until fall of 2005. Fair said that given the program's growing popularity, delaying the county's participation now could result in an even longer delay.
   "This time next year, we don't know how far we would be in getting base mapping," he said. "We've got to get the $90,000 just to make a phone call."
   David Nichols, deputy director of the Carter County EMS, said rescue squad personnel employed a program called Terrain Navigator that used a global positioning system (GPS) and the Internet to track hikers lost in the county's highlands. He said the GIS map could assist public safety personnel in various scenarios.
   "We always have problems when we go to car wrecks and there is a pole down or there are cable lines down telling the power company where it is," said Nichols. "We won't use it as much as the city Water Department or Assessor of Property's office, but we will use it."
   A representative of the state Department of Finance and Administration's Office of Information Resources met with city and county officials in late April to discuss the mapping program. The state Comptroller of the Treasury initiated a pilot program in 1996 that brought the Base Mapping Program into use. Sullivan County was one of five pilot program counties that went on-line with the program between 1997 and 1998.
   Carter and Johnson are the only two counties east of Knoxville without a GIS mapping system.
   The Elizabethton Regional Planning Commission endorsed the Base Mapping Program earlier this month. Fair said the county's funding contribution was up for discussion in upcoming county budget workshops. He also said the city of Johnson City had expressed interest in the mapping program given the city's municipal boundary and utility services present in the county's west end.
   City of Elizabethton Director of Finance Brad Moffitt recommended Fair contact local cellular telephone companies to gauge their interest in funding a portion of the program to receive a map layer of their cellular telephone towers in the county.
   Glenna Morton, assistant director of the Carter County 911 Communications District said a computer company is presently building the district's own mapping system integrated with telephony that tracks a 911 call to its location on a county map.
   "We will have this with our own overlay," she said. "Our only way to get it done was the Tennessee Emergency Communications Board allocated the money to have it done."