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Municipalities across tri-county region could save thousands if DANC gets funding for shared GIS mapping system

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Municipalities across Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties could save thousands on land-surveying costs thanks to a shared Geographic Information Systems map viewer providing cutting-edge data.

The Development Authority of the North Country will seek state funding to launch the project. Totaling about $1 million if the three counties provide matching funds, the grant proposal was agreed to on Thursday by the authority’s board of directors.

The proposal calls for three separately funded parts: the launch of a regional GIS map viewer with public access; a self-service map viewer that would give local governments access to specialized data not available to the public; and acquisition of Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data for a regional map viewer that would feature highly detailed elevation information.

The authority’s share of the funding would amount to $54,310, according to the board resolution. To help fund the proposal’s most costly component — $850,000 to acquire the LiDAR data — Jefferson County will be asked to provide a matching contribution of $16,855, while St. Lawrence County would be asked for $18,460 and Lewis County $9,995. Counties may decide not to provide matching amounts, but would then be disqualified from acquiring LiDAR data.

“This is all contingent upon getting the state money, but we think the fact that we have municipalities and ourselves participating gives us a good chance,” James W. Wright, authority CEO, said. “We’ve done, in essence, what they wanted us to do: identify ways that you can share services and costs.”

The grant proposal comes after the authority completed a state-funded $70,000 feasibility study last year that identified how to share GIS mapping services across the region.

According to its plan, the authority would launch a GIS regional map viewer to be used by the counties of Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence, the city of Watertown and the state Tug Hill Commission. It would consolidate separate maps used by municipalities into one system, made available for public access on the authority’s website. A second “self-service” mapping system would make specialized data available exclusively to municipalities.

The mapping system’s cutting-edge LiDAR elevation data, which is used throughout the state but not in the north country, would give municipalities a useful tool that would save planning costs, Carrie M. Tuttle, the authority’s director of engineering, said.

“We’ve talked with several of the counties that have LiDAR coverage, and those counties are saying that the payback on this is huge,” she said. “Basically one highway project, one bridge project, one water project, would pay back the cost of doing it, because you can do all of the preliminary engineering without having to do a land survey. It actually works out for the counties so that, on a $1 million project, they’re paying 5 percent. And then the authority is picking up a little more than 5 percent between the map viewers and LiDAR data, so it’s a really small local share.”

In other business Thursday, the board adopted the authority’s 2014-15 budget. Its fiscal year runs from April 1 through March 31.

The $15,608,855 budget is up by 1.2 percent from last year’s $15,430,259. Total revenue is projected to drop by 13.2 percent compared with last year, from $29,278,839 to $25,420,159.

The revenue reduction is due primarily to less anticipated grant revenue. Overall grant revenue compared with last year is expected to fall by 56 percent, from $6,669,501 to 2,951,100.

Following an increase last year for tipping fees at the authority’s regional landfill in Rodman, charges for trash haulers have stayed the same in the 2014-15 budget. In January 2013, tipping fees were increased $5 per ton to make up for a consistent decline in tonnage of trash at the landfill. Municipalities and trash haulers with contracts at the landfill saw fees jump from $39 to $44, while fees for walk-in customers increased from $41 to $46.

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