Background GIS mapping systems helps decision makers to better visualize, analyze and interpret data in an effort to understand the relationships, patterns and trends. In the past, this type of resource system has been traditionally used by Federal, State and city government agencies to manage asset resources. This is due to the need to manage large asset quantities i.e., 3000 manholes, 5000 stop signs and miles of water mains. Smaller agencies have not taken advantage of the powers of GIS based on the notion that their asset resources can be easily managed by traditional record keeping methodologies. Over the years IT technologies and software have made the process easier, however, the lack of being able to compare and analyze the data to spatial information was left out of the process.
Directing limited resources toward the best end use return on investment has become the number one priority of successfully run agencies. And while the Hoffman Estates Park District has had success in the past, there is no guarantee that in the future this will continue especially given the fact that the agency has little to no new growth potential. Managing what we have will be the priority going forward. GIS systems along with other data base software systems tailored to the parks and recreation industry might be the key to operational success in the future.
How can GIS benefit the Hoffman Estates Park District in future decision making?
Cost savings from greater efficiency: GIS is widely used to optimize maintenance schedules and daily staffing and fleet movements. Typical implementations can result in a savings of 10 to 30 percent in operational expenses through the reduction in fuel use and staff time, improved customer service, and more efficient scheduling.
- Better decision making GIS is the “go-to-technology” for making better decisions about location: Common examples relevant to parks and recreation might be site selection for particular programming and infrastructure support development. A second example would be to better understand the district’s current customer base in relationship to geographic location.
- Better communicative tools with relative reliable data: GIS-based maps help to quantify the data inputs and assist in the understanding of the particular situations and the justifications made. This data can be the language that improves the communication and buy in between different departments, disciplines, organizations, elected officials and the public.
- Record Keeping: as a government agency, we are the care keepers of the public’s property. Today the public at large insists that we manage those assists in their best interest whether or not they personally take advantage of those resources. GIS provides a strong framework for managing the care, upkeep and replacement of those assets with data base systems and reporting tools.
One reason smaller agencies have shied away from GIS technology systems is the perceived return on investment. Initial start-up costs including asset identification can cost $50K -$75K for small agencies with the higher cost being the maintenance for input of new data into the system. That continued support and maintenance input could require another $25K to $35K annually for an agency like HEPD assuming all new data points were identified and entered into the database by in house staff. The cost to develop new and different data report comparisons would require outside support from a knowledgeable GIS technician.
To better understand how and if other park districts are using this technology staff conducted a survey of local agencies in the area. Of the total responses (24), 8 agencies responded that they were utilizing GIS technology in the tracking and maintaining their assets. In addition to those that were currently using GIS, an additional 9 agencies were currently looking into the use of GIS for their operations. Other noted items that stood out in the survey results were: the minimal hours of staff time being devoted to operate those systems and the fact that no one in the recreation side of the business was using the data to further their programming efforts. Attached to this memo is a summary of the total responses to each of the questions that were part of the GIS Park District survey.
As for national trends and GIS, NRPA and the Proragis project has now incorporated this technology as a data input field so users can belter understand facility distribution within geographic areas. As more GIS data is in input into Proragis, end users will be able to show facility distribution deficiencies. GIS has also been used in development of long range and comprehensive master planning. Especially in city type government situations.
Given the positive potential of GIS as a park and recreation planning tool the question of return on investment needs to be compared to value added. One thing is clear, capital dollars for new and replacement projects will become an even greater problem in the budgeting process. While dollars for capital will always be available, the needs will soon out strip that resource. Deciding what projects to be funded and what projects are pushed off will come about from quantitative analysis and not from political gut decision making. Use of data set comparison from GIS, demographics, customer data bases and other census data will better insure what we do meets the needs of the customer community. The first cost to consider is the purchase of the software ($8,000-$12,000) and loading in all the existing HEPD data points into the system ($24,000-$33,000). In addition the district would need to purchase some additional hardware such as tablets for field downloading tasks $7,000/assuming a PC work station would be available to operate and input the data into the system. The tailoring of a system to meet HEPD’s particular needs would cost approximately $6,500 and staff training could add another $1,500- $3,000. While there are many GIS software systems packages to choose from, the district should select one that utilizes what is termed as the industry standard. That way the data can be shared between agencies and organizations such as NRP A Village data which primarily deals with infrastructure might be useful to the park district especially in areas where overlap occurs. ESRI ArcGIS is one software package that has become widely used and is considered an industry standard. In addition to the GIS software, add on software has been developed by secondary sources to address special needs of particular end users. In our case the integration of parks and recreation data bases becomes a benefit in ongoing operation and use of the datasets collected by a whole host of departments and/or agencies. One such software vender is Geographic Technologies Group which has developed specific software for local governments. In our case a parks and recreation platform incorporates such data bases as RecTrak, MainTrak, US Census Data, and Proragis into one package.
The second cost and one that over time will far exceed the capital cost, is the ongoing operational maintenance cost. No GIS system is ever complete or finished that is unless nothing were ever to change in the organization or agency and that never happens. Things are constantly added and removed from or facility inventory. Keeping up with this constant flux of change is best dealt with at the time of completion of the work or shortly thereafter other methodologies like annual or periodic surveying could be more labor intensive and result in incorrect data input. Based a district of our size, it is estimated that it would take between 15 and 20 hours per month on average to keep up with the inputting of changes in the district. Assuming a wage of $20 per hour X 20 hours /month X 12 months the cost for in house labor to document the changes on a tablet would be $4,800. This information would then be inputted into the GIS system by the consultant for an annual cost of $6,000. Training of staff to perform this function would cost an additional $2,000 and this person would be considered a field technician only and would not be called upon to manage or operate the GIS data base. If however there is no one on staff to perform this function, the district might consider partnering with other agency or agencies on an employee share program. This approach may yield a more qualified individual at an overall lower cost. To gain in house GIS expertise (one who could operate the entire GIS system) would cost the district between $35,000-$45,000 annually. Once again the district could job share this position say at 50% the annual cost of the full time qualified GIS knowledgeable person. The Village now has a fulltime employee who’s GIS responsibilities take up about 75% of his work time. This individual might work for the park district during his off Village work hours and meet the in house GIS work demands at a cost less than that of the outside consultant once the system is up and running.