Collin County Gives Constituents GIS Access
In counties across the state, phone lines in the voter
registrar’s office soon will be tied up with voter after voter asking the familiar
question: Where is my precinct?
The phones in Collin County have been a bit quieter
in pre-election months, thanks to an innovative feature on the Collin County
Web site – an interactive map.
This user-friendly map was created using a GIS, or
geographic information system. The system associates visual features seen on
maps – such as lines representing roads or shapes representing flood plains
– with database records. In other words, GIS provides for an electronic map
with a database attached.
Layers providing varying information, such as precinct
lines, rivers and streams, and road maintenance information, can be placed on
top of one another to create a comprehensive map. Users can click on specific
points to pull up detailed information to perform analyses or to answer questions
Where are the county’s polling
Which county road uses a specific
How many properties are located
in the flood plain?
Several Collin County departments currently use the
county’s GIS, said Tim Nolan, GIS administrator. The
fire marshal uses GIS for emergency preparedness. The sheriff’s office has the
ability to analyze crime with GIS, and public works uses GIS for right of way
The elections office
has used GIS to help voters pinpoint the exact location of their precinct. The
interactive map allows users to click on their precinct number, click on the
polling location, and then view the facility, including surrounding streets
and intersections, giving the voter foolproof directions.
In the case of special
elections, such as bond elections, the map serves the same purpose, directing
voters to their precise polling location. And, voters can print out the maps
“This is the neatest
sub-project that has come out of the interactive Web page,” Nolan said.
The elections office
has noted a decline in calls regarding precinct location, said Amy Rose, GIS
technician with Collin County.
Of course, the maps
are used for more than finding precincts. In fact, Rose said she once walked
into a restaurant and saw someone holding a printout of a map from the Collin
County Web site.
Nolan has a term for
this arrangement – allowing the public to have access to data that the county
has been using for years. He calls it “e-democracy.”
“We work for the taxpayers,”
Worth the Wait
the late 1980s, the state mandated that counties of a certain size implement
911 addressing to replace rural route box numbers. The best way to manage all
of the new data coming in was to develop a GIS, Nolan said.
“The approach wasn’t, ‘Let’s
do a rural addressing project,’ ” he said. Rather, the county decided to develop
a GIS that could be used by multiple departments.
It took about eight years
to fully develop the GIS for Collin County, acquiring layers and reconciling
data from different areas.
Around 1999-2000, the county
decided to investigate Internet mapping services, eventually purchasing software
that would allow the county to display an interactive map on the World Wide
The mapping function taps
into the centralized GIS database, meaning changes and additions are automatically
integrated into the program.
On Jan. 9, 2004, the county’s
GIS system went online, Nolan said.
For years only county employees
had access to the system, he said. Now the public has access as well, free of
The county Web site, www.co.collin.tx.us, invites users to try
out the GIS Interactive Mapping System “which provides road maps, school locations,
parcel information, aerial photography, and a wealth of other information about
Collin County…” as stated on the Web site.
Thanks to the mapping system, residents can learn
exactly where to go for jury duty.
Members of the business community can select a parcel
of land and have immediate access to public data including taxes paid on the
The site offers a list of layers that can be turned
off and on, providing information such as special district lines and elected
“The interactive map benefits the county by basically
providing the taxpayers with the data that they bought,” Rose said.
While the GIS system and Web component came with a
cost, the benefits are well worth the investment, Nolan said. Counties interested
in GIS need to consider the long-term benefits to all county departments that
use location or geography and the benefit of offering usable information to
More and more data layers have become available over
the past few years, and some of these layers are available at no cost.
“It’s worth it, but you need patience and commitment,”
Establish a staff that has an understanding
of geography and computer technology, he advised. Implement the GIS, and then
let it grow. H – By Julie AndersonJulie Anderson