A free GIS service should be provided

    A Crawford County citizen attended a recent meeting of the county commission and raised a good point about having public access to the GIS (geographic information system). Taxpayers fund it, why can’t they have access to it?

    The man questioned charges levied against those who wish to have access to the GIS maps. He believes the mapping information should be free in spite of Assessor Kellie Vestal’s explanation on the reason for the charges.
    When addressing commissioners he reported that surrounding counties don’t charge for access to their GIS databases, but Crawford does, and he doesn’t believe that is right. He said Vestal had told him that the county had paid for the information, so it shouldn’t be given to him at no charge, however he believes that, as a taxpayer, he had paid for it, so he shouldn’t have to pay an additional fee for access.
    He’s right!
    Vestal later explained to Three Rivers Publishing that the particular GIS program used in Crawford County is different from those offered for free access in other counties and includes much more detail. She reported the annual subscription cost of $150 that is charged to those who wish to utilize it pays for the cost of the program and the updates to it.
    While that is true, it’s no excuse for giving the public easy access to information they are funding.
    The fact is, most people don’t want or need “much more detail” when it comes to looking at GIS data. That kind of information is only needed by a select few—realtors, surveyors, etc.—and they should be charged for it because they need it to conduct business. The general public does not and shouldn’t have to pay extra for that.
    GIS data is widely available on the Internet and numerous counties throughout the nation provide it as a free service. Afterall, you are already paying for it.
    People often use it to help determine where their property lines are—something that might be needed if they have not had a survey done in a long time—and to see where public and private land lie. For instance, a hunter might want to review GIS data before hunting on U.S. Forest Service or Missouri Department of Conservation land to make sure he is in the right place and not on private property.
    A property owner also might want to use GIS to double check what the county has on record for their property taxes. You may think you own 15 acres and you may be getting taxed for 15 acres, but what if GIS shows that you actually own 14.5 acres. Should you have to pay the government that is taxing you to find that out?
    Until Crawford County decides to fully serve its taxpayers and provide a free GIS service, there are some other options that can provide some minimum services for free. Do a Google search for “Crawford County Mo GIS” and you find a few. Among those is www.acrevalue.com, which will show you property lines and acreage without identifying ownership, and another is www.arcgis.com, which can provide you with detailed info on your property (provided you know where your property lines are). One great feature of arcgis.com is that you can actually measure land from a satellite view to determine things like exactly how big your field is before you fertilize, spray, or plant.