Council approves funding for new GIS software

Friday, May 31, 2013

Following several years of discussion about how Putnam County could fund geographic information system (GIS) mapping, officials were presented with a glimmer of hope last month.

Not only was the State of Indiana willing to foot half of the $92,000 bill to bring Putnam County up to date with nearly every county in the state, but Indiana Geographic Information Officer Jim Sparks expressed his opinion the county could use money from the deep-pocketed but highly-restricted hazardous waste fund to pay the other half.

It seemed like a sure thing for the county -- fund a necessary service for the county planning, plat and 911 departments without spending a penny of the county general fund or rainy day fund.

That's what made Tuesday's decision on the matter all the more curious.

The Putnam County Council approved $46,000 for the project, but not to be drawn from hazardous waste. Instead, the money will come from the rainy day fund, a source that could have been tapped into at any point in the process and without state approval.

County officials were at a loss about funding the software until Sparks' letter arrived earlier this year. While they were at first dubious about funding it from hazardous waste, attorneys Jim Ensley and Elizabeth South, who serve as counsel for the commissioners and council, both read up on the issue and eventually agreed with what Sparks had to say.

"A letter from a state official has more power than any legal opinion I could write," Ensley said in April.

With that argument settled, Tuesday's council decision was more about fiscal wisdom than legality.

"The question now is not can we do it, but should we do it," councilman Phil Gick said early in the discussion. "My concern is if we have less (in the hazardous waste fund) each year."

Gick was referring to decreasing amounts in the fund in recent years due to road funding and other commitments.

A request had been granted earlier in the meeting for $227,650 from the hazardous waste fund to go to roadwork in Russell Township.

Adding this amount to possibly funding GIS as well as other commitments, Gick figured the county could be spending $400,000 from an account that takes in about $300,000 annually.

The fund sat at $2.67 million prior to Tuesday's meeting.

Councilman Gene Beck expressed a different concern. Citing the state's continued disapproval of the county using the fund to help purchase ambulances, Beck said he did not think GIS money should be drawn from it either.

"I'm totally against taking money out for GIS if we can't use it for Operation Life," Beck said. He went on to suggest the money come from rainy day.

Beck said he worries the state will at some point take notice of the balance of the county's rainy day fund and begin cutting the county general budget because of it.

The argument was made that the same thing might happen to the hazardous waste fund, but Beck spoke up to make the motion it be funded from rainy day.

The motion looked like it might die for lack of support before Gick seconded it.

On further discussion, councilman Larry Parker, a staunch protector of the rainy day fund, expressed his disagreement, saying the county should use hazardous waste money, given the limited number of uses it has.

Put to a vote, however, Beck's motion passed 5-1, with Parker the only dissenting vote.

The county already has a data exchange agreement with the state but does not currently have complete GIS parcel agreement to share with the state. Putnam is one of only two counties still without such digital information.

The purchase of GIS software will open up mapping possibilities for county offices, real estate agents and the general public, making map and parcel details much more accessible and informative.

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  • The council acted appropriately. The hazardous waste fund shouldn't be used to purchase GIS software or to fund ambulances. Even with a liberal interpretation of the intent of the legislature neither action would be allowable without fallacy. Anyone countering likely has something to gain selling/receiving software or ambulances.

    The topic of using the hazardous waste fund to purchase ambulances for Operation Life is especially interesting to me. Operation Life is a private organization. Any justification for use of the hazardous waste fund to purchase an ambulance for a private organization such as Operation Life would have to be built upon a specifically vague argument. Such an argument would likely only be constructed to do nothing more than to convert public money to the private organization by the parties involved. Something doesn't pass the sniff test. I suspect there is an element of collusion in the underlying agreement between Operation Life and the county. What gives?

    -- Posted by Doctor of Jurisprudence on Sat, Jun 1, 2013, at 1:40 AM
  • Well said, DJ. But the GIS needs to be funded one way or another. Only Putnam and Parke Counties in Indiana are without GIS, and Parke is in the process of obtaining theirs. Are we really the poorest county in Indiana?

    -- Posted by Ben Dover on Sat, Jun 1, 2013, at 8:47 AM
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