President’s Message – Be the Change!

Greetings WLIA members,

For many years I followed a typical career progression in my organization. I was hired into an entry level GIS Technician/Analyst position, after several promotions and reorganizations I became a division manager and took on the Land Information Officer duties. For the focus of this message, I’d like to reflect on how my position evolved over the past several years and how that enables me to positively influence the direction of my organization. Although I use myself as an example, this article is not really about me. I see many in our association who are content in what they do, but are missing the opportunity to be the change their organization needs. My hope is that this article will make you think about and possibly reconsider your sphere of influence.

For the past several years all presentations that even remotely deal with our county budget include a “Fiscal Health – Budget Gap” graph similar to the example included in this article. In a nutshell, expenses are growing faster than revenue can due to levy limits and the voting public’s appetite for tax and fee increases. The result is that we all need to mind the gap. Whether or not your organization is this transparent, and recognizing the size of the gap may not be constant throughout the state, I’ll go out on a limb and say that all governments in Wisconsin are facing the same challenge.

Part of Washington County’s response was to become the first county in Wisconsin to implement Priority Based Budgeting (PBB). Through PBB, my county board identified four strategic goals that define what Washington County should provide its residents. Those goals are:

  • Safe and Secure Community
  • Economic Growth and Vitality
  • Effective Mobility and Reliable Infrastructure
  • Access to Basic Physical, Behavioral and Socio-Economic Needs

The board also established a goal of a “Well-Governed and Administered County” for county functions that do not provide direct services for citizens. PBB required all departments to identify the programs they deliver, over 1000 in all, and document FTE and budget resource allocations to each program. Programs were scored according to their consistency with the identified strategic goals and in some cases the low scoring programs were modified or eliminated so that resources could be redirected to higher scoring programs.

A related project developed the county’s Strategic Priorities. My over simplification is that the strategic priorities document is the road map we need to follow in order to achieve the county’s strategic goals. It came as no surprise to me that when I read the Strategic Priorities document, I felt I had the capability to provide some support to nearly every included initiative.

Some initiatives included aspects that I’d categorize as traditional land information projects. As an example, our GIS team analyzed data to support the Transportation Network Sustainability Plan. First, the current condition of all county highways was mapped. Then, based on road miles, road maintenance repair schedules, predicted life expectancy of each road improvement project and the anticipated per mile cost of each repair type, the annual expenditure to “maintain reliable infrastructure to provide effective mobility” was determined. In Aug 2018 the County board approved $10M of additional borrowing to implement the Transportation Network Sustainability Plan. I am confident in saying the significant increase in borrowing would have never been approved and our road system would have continued to deteriorate if there wasn’t a comprehensive analysis of the data.

Other initiatives have a looser connection to land information or may not even be land information projects at all. One initiative in which I am personally involved is performance based management. Again, my over simplification is that if we identify a goal and say we offer a program to achieve that goal, we should be able to measure the effectiveness of that program. Some of the performance indicators we identify may have a spatial component while others will not. Either way, working with and analyzing data is what we are good at! The story maps and dashboards many of us now deploy on a near daily basis could prove very important in measuring and communicating the effectiveness of the programs and services our organizations perform. If we find a program is underperforming, hopefully the data we compile and analysis we complete can be used to improve performance and enhance the services we offer.

Parcel mapping, PLSS, orthophotography, LiDAR, open data, NG911 and the other things we’ve traditionally cared about are all very important and I would not suggest for a second they are not. My point is not that we should back away from our traditional roles, but rather that we should not be defined by or limited to them. Identify the priorities within your organization and align yourself with them. Sometimes you will likely need to be assertive. It is true you might find yourself out of your comfort zone and working on non-spatial data projects, but it is also true you may find it is easier to complete the spatial projects that are important to you because of your expanded role. At least that has been my experience.

Keep fightin’ the good fight,

Eric Damkot
WLIA President

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