During County Government Month in April, CSAC is presenting blogs and short video features on 13 award-winning programs from nine counties that demonstrate effective, original and cost-conscious ways counties are serving their citizens.
Watch the Video.
At a recent CSAC Institute course, the topic was county information technology services. A key message delivered during the course was how counties need to work toward better use of information technology to efficiently deliver services to residents.
And that’s exactly what Nevada County is doing through its My Neighborhood GIS Application. This isn’t a program for which you need an IT degree to figure it out. It’s very user-friendly.
Just ask Andrew Cassano, a private planning consultant in Nevada County, how it has made his professional life easier. Before this application was developed, Andrew would spend hours poring over paper maps – a process that hadn’t change in more than a century. Now, Andrew can get his information quickly and efficiently with the click of a mouse. And the fact that the My Neighborhood application provides overlays can give Andrew exactly the answers he needs.
The tool is also being used by numerous other groups beyond planners, including real estate agents wanting to learn about a piece of property, or local businesses that want to market to a targeted regional group. Residents – prospective and current – can easily find out who their elected representatives are, or what school district they are in, just by typing in an address.
“We wanted to provide tools for folks so they didn’t have to come into the county or call,” explains Sebastian Roberts, a Nevada County GIS analyst who helped design the project. “We wanted to get mapping tools not only out in the hands of county employees but our residents as well.”
The application also has significant internal benefits for the county. By putting state-of-the-art geospatial tools in the hands of the public, the county has been able to save significant staff time by empowering residents to answer many of their own property-related questions. The Nevada County Planning Department, for instance, now spends less time answering questions and more time focusing on other important planning issues.
“Having people have access at home is a big improvement,” explains Amy Kesler-Wolfson, a Nevada County assistant planner. “Now I just have to show them how to access it.”
It especially saves time on projects such as creating a public-noticing map. For example, in just minutes you can now create a map with a 1,000-feet notification radius. “It used to be painstaking process,” says Kesler-Wolfson. “Now you just choose a parcel, give it a radius parcel and it automatically highlights all the parcels. And then, you can just export that into an Excel spreadsheet. The old process would take about an hour; now it takes about five minutes.”
My Neighborhood also has some custom tools that only a particular county department has access to. The Sheriff’s Department can analyze all calls for service and easily map them out, or easily see where a 1,000-foot buffer for registered sex offenders lies.
County staff can also find out key information about its residents to enhance service delivery. For example, addresses can be uploaded and placed on maps to answer questions such as “Where do the users of this library live?”
“It’s really saved the county money by allowing us to free up the time for people at the counter and let them do other parts of their job,” Roberts concludes. “We have had so many cutbacks at the county so that was imperative. Employees now work more efficiently and people are most often able to help themselves.”
County government works, which is why Californians prefer to have programs and services managed and operated at the local level. The county programs featured by CSAC during County Government Month are 2011 CSAC Challenge Award recipients. These awards recognize the innovative and creative spirit of California county governments as they find new and effective ways of providing programs and services to their citizens. The Call for Entries for the 2012 CSAC Challenge Awards is being distributed this month.
David Liebler is the Director of Public Affairs and Member Services for the California State Association of Counties. He can be reached at dliebler.at.counties.org.