Officials unveil new GIS tool

ALBANY -- A new hi-tech tool for public information was unveiled by planning officials Monday in a move they say will give the public unparalled access to public government information.

The Enterprise GIS mapping tool is a Web-based program that allows the public access to a map of Dougherty County that includes switchable items that overlay to provide various amounts of information, Planning Director Howard Brown says.

The Enterprise GIS mapping tool is available by visiting the government Web site at www.albany.ga.us and clicking on city departments, planning, and then GIS.

In a presentation to the Albany City Commission Monday, officials said the Enterprise GIS system allows users to locate a specific address of interest within the boundaries of the county and select from a list of options that provide information on anything from zoning and planning maps and information to acreage and measurements.

"It's a tool that has a wide variety of possibilities and features that would cater to everyone, from developers to just the average citizen who may be interested in knowing what (city) ward or County Commission district they're in or," Brown said.

The mapping system contains items that show satellite imagery, flood plain maps and zoning parcels.

One piece of the GIS puzzle that hasn't yet been approved for public use is the public safety component.

Demonstrating it for the commission Monday, Brown and GIS Manager Randy Weathersbee showed how information gathered by police, sheriff's officials, EMS units and the fire department could be used on the system.

Specifically, Weathersbee showed commissioners an overlay of arrests throughout the community which would allow for people to see if anyone has been recently arrested in their neighborhoods or to show were there are crime hotspots. Additionally, the commission was shown an overlay used by the sheriff's office to determine the 1,000-foot distance that sex offenders are required to keep from schools and churches.

But while Mayor Willie Adams and others seemed eager to put the public safety information on the site, there were concerns about how much of that information should be made available in respect to items that could pose a legal liability to the city or county or threaten ongoing investigations.

"I think there was an obvious indication from some at the table that they want as much public safety information out there as possible," Assistant City Manager James Taylor said. "But we have to take into account that this is a new technology and, like other things, will have to ease into what information we provide.

"We can put out anything the public wants and the commission approves."

Some information however, is protected from public disclosure because of federal law.

Brown said that some information from the Albany Water, Gas & Light Commission had been used in the system for official use, but because of legislation designed to prevent possible terrorist attacks and contamination of the water supply, that information wouldn't be disclosed to the public.

The Enterprise GIS system should complement existing GIS systems used by various city and county entities.

The Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission has its own GIS system it uses to help sell the city and county to industry officials.

That site, Albanygaprospector.com, gives a snapshot of local properties that are highlighted on a map of the county, including parcel name, square footage, building time and zoning. It also shows where special military and HUB zones are located, which provide tax and other incentives to businesses who are interested in relocating or expanding.

Justin Strickland, an EDC staffer who has been involved largely in developing the site, said that it is not only a resource for those seeking information, it's also a sales tools to brokers who have property in the area.

"It's a developer-centric site and is often the first place we turn to when we get requests for information," Strickland said. "And the best part is that it's free for any building or property owner to use to list their property on."

Strickland says that the EDC is planning an upgrade of its existing site to incorporate a growing relationship with Internet giant Google, which would increase the speed and functionality of the site.

In addition to simple building information, prospector also provides detailed demographic information for a 60-mile radius.

As the city and county's Enterprise GIS system gains more exposure from the public, government leaders say that it will likely expand to include more and more information.

"There's a wide variety of information that can be put on there," Taylor said. "It's just a matter of seeing what the public wants and how to provide it."

Brown says that the development of the site is another way the government is working to become more transparent.

"Once this thing is really up and going, things that once took a trip up to the office and time to dig through flood plain maps, can now be done at your fingertips with an Internet connection," Brown said. "And that's an amazing thing."