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A Times Editorial

Mapping system's time has come

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 13, 2001

As a rule, it's more difficult to find your way without a map. That adage holds true for government, too.

That's why the Citrus County Commission should not hesitate to approve a proposal today to create a state-of-the-art computer mapping system.

At approximately $4-million, the Geographic Information System, or GIS, is costly. But the benefits to county and municipal governments, as well as to private industries and other taxpayers, are worth the investment.

The GIS would take information that now is spread among several agencies and departments and consolidate it, within three to five years, into one comprehensive database. Everything from the elevation of a parcel of land, to the availability of water and sewer service, to the just market value of the property and who owns it would be available at the fingertips of a computer user.

Having such an all-inclusive system in place will save innumerable hours for county employees who now must look up the information for residents. But it also will be a timesaver for individuals who now are forced to conduct piecemeal investigations of a property, sometimes requiring multiple visits to several locations.

Realtors, builders, engineers and architects readily come to mind as groups of people who should be thrilled by this proposal.

But all residents can benefit from it. For instance, a person who is considering making an offer on a residence would be able to check all the recent sales of similar properties in that neighborhood to verify that the asking price is reasonable.

The prospective home buyer also would be able to use the GIS to determine if the property is in a flood zone, when permits were issued for the original construction, the distance to schools and shopping, and the current tax assessment.

That sort of detail, once privy only to professional insiders, empowers individual taxpayers to make informed judgments about their investments.

That is why the County Commission, if it moves forward with the GIS, must clearly stipulate that the system be available to any user who can connect to the Internet, and must make public computer terminals available to those who are not online at home or work.

The $4-million cost should be shared by all government agencies that will benefit from it, including the cities of Crystal River and Inverness and the constitutional offices of Property Appraiser, Tax Collector, Sheriff and Supervisor of Elections. The Citrus County School Board also should be expected to kick in its fair share.

The county first considered the GIS several years ago, but opted to wait until the price came down. It has -- by about half -- and it would not be prudent to wait any longer.

The GIS is the shape of things to come, and the rapid development of this area dictates that Citrus County stay ahead of its neighbors in this type of technology.

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