County shows off new apps




JEFFERSON-Ashe County will soon finish dumping its clunky, outdated online GIS system in favor of a sleek new suite of tools.

That’s according to a presentation by Ashe County Manager Sam Yearick last week. The county has already added new tools in the form of three new web applications on the county’s website, and will soon offer full tax card information online, according to Terri Moore, Ashe County’s mapping supervisor.

Everything from barn quilts to water mains and three-phase electric hookups are included in the new system, according to Yearick, who presented the new tools to a group of local realtors on Dec. 1, the group he said was most likely to benefit from the county’s roughly $12,000 investment.

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Yearick said the idea for the new system actually came from discussions Yearick and other county employees had held with the community, including Ashe County’s real estate sales pros.

“We try to work with everybody and we want to be business friendly,” Yearick said. “My point? We don’t want to be the thing that stops business from flowing here. Earlier, we’d met with local Realtors and they told us some of the functionality we’d like to see here. Our GIS system was outdated, so we decided to check into some products that we thought could include some of those suggestions.”

Three separate tools

The new tools include an art, cultural and recreational application – it shows everything from art galleries to the location of public trout waters – a a civic app that shows things like solid waste facilities and elementary school districts and an environmental and infrastructure application that shows everything from flood zones to the exact layout of water mains and electrical hookups.

They’re easy to find and use

The Web apps can be accessed by simply going to www.ashecountygov.com and clicking on the GIS/Apps icon. You can access them on any internet connected device, including cellular data connected smartphones and tablets.

But not everything is included

One of the most common questions visitors and potential property buyers ask, ‘How close is this property to internet access or high speed fiber optic access?’ can’t be answered by this map, Yearick said.

“Skyline will tell us that information but they won’t release that publicly due to competitive reasons,” Yearick said. “It was disappointing we couldn’t offer that information as well.”

Location assistance

Yearick said the maps also offer a location assistance feature if they’re accessed with a GPS-enabled smartphone, something the county has never offered before.

“Within seconds you can find out details on the property parcel you’re standing on, and the ones next to it,” Yearick said. “You’ve also got some cool things like flood zone overlays. You can see exactly which sections of the parcel might be in that zone and you know right away you can’t build in the center of it. Handy stuff that can help you understand key things while you’re standing right there.

But, crucially, you’ve got to have internet access

The applications can’t be downloaded as standalone apps that can function without internet access, Yearick said. As long as your phone or mobile device is in service, you can use the applications. If you’re off the beaten path and beyond mobile data service, you’re out of luck.

First update in a decade

Yearick called the upgrade the GIS system’s first since 2005.

“In 2005, our GIS system was a very good, very stable product,” Yearick said. “But a lot has changed since then.”

One thing users have asked for repeatedly over the years? The ability to access full tax cards – a kind of tax office snapshot that includes pertinent tax details on a specific piece of property – online. The old system simply couldn’t include the full tax cards online, Yearick said.

“The new system (Ashe County Tax Administrator) Keith Little and Terri Moore picked out – it knocks it out of the ballpark,” Yearick said. “The old system was frustrating. This has so much more functionality.”

At presstime, the public access tax card function had not been published online.

High Country COG showed the way

Yearick said map builders with High Country Council of Governments helped Ashe County build an industrial map that included the kinds of property corporate site selectors might find attractive.

That map included things like terrain, tracts of land, power and sewer considerations, but HCCOG also offered to build Ashe County online applications that featured the same kinds of data.

“They showed us a scaled down version of these apps that they’d done for North Wilkesboro and we just said, yes, that’s exactly what we’re looking for,” Yearick said.

Roughly $12,000

That’s how much the new projects combined cost the county, Yearick said, in roughly $1,000 monthly payments.

“All this is hosted outside, so we’re not the ones that have to worry about the constant updating and maintaining of the system,” Yearick said. “We can leave that to experts on the outside and if somebody else comes to us with a great idea, we can more than likely add that data to the maps. And if we decide this isn’t for us or that no one is using it, we can drop it at any time.”

Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058 or Twitter.com/AdamROrr.

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