Over the past several issues, I have been discussing the City of Winnipeg’s investment in a GIS system. This is the conclusion.
From 1987 to now, the total cost of the project has been $15 million. Having gone to such expense, it is understandable that some administrators might question whether
the benefits of the city’s accurate parcel database and GIS justify the cost. City departments save an estimated $300,000 annually by not having to redraft the base map, which is accurate enough for engineering design. These savings are also realized in other utility agencies that have purchased the base map and pay a fee for update services. In addition to the daily operational efficiencies, GIS has been used to conduct a variety of analyses that have saved the city time and money. For example: the city saved about $100,000 annually resulting from a garbage collection routing study.
The city has also saved money defending assessment appeals through access to accurate parcel maps linked to assessment data. The accurate database flushed out some long-dormant ownership issues that had the potential to seriously delay major developments. A thin parcel of land less than a metre wide was discovered in the right-of-way of a major freeway project. During the flood of1997, the GIS was critical in determining risk areas and identifying and co-ordinating evacuation plans. A by-law prohibited the establishment of an adult video store within 1,000 feet of a residential property. An accurate parcel database allows the calculation to be performed immediately upon application of a development permit.
Instead of producing accurate maps, other jurisdictions have chosen a different strategy for their GIS project and decided to only produce an inexpensive digitized copy of their paper map records for thematic mapping. Map accuracy levels for these jurisdictions average three to six metres as opposed to our centimetre accuracy. However, this computer map product is limited to broad thematic maps that do not require accurate measurements or placement of facilities. The maps cannot be used for engineering and construction drawings resulting in the need to survey and redraw parts of the city at a cost, that over time, could equal the accurate map costs. In addition, these low accuracy GIS products are not suitable for field data collection or map-based dispatch and vehicle navigation systems using GPS technology, as the co-ordinates do not align.
Today, GIS is used in departments to support many business functions that would not have been possible without the integrated and accurate foundation systems, such as police, fire/paramedic, city clerks, assessment, public information; planning, transit, finance, community services and public works. The evidence is clear: the city’s investment in GIS has paid off. The foresight of past city leaders creating an accurate parcel base, property address system and street network base has created a GIS that has been used in countless applications.