Does a municipality have to be large to realize the benefits of sophisticated software like geographical information systems (GIS) and digital document management?
“The answer in our case is absolutely not,” says Renee Geyer, City Clerk of this farming community in Western Kansas with a population of 1,700. “These tools enable us to serve our constituents much more effectively.”
“In our view, smaller cities and towns should all be looking to bring in these capabilities. They’re needed now and are only going to become more necessary in the future.”
Leoti is investing a portion of a $2.1 million USDA Rural Development grant and loan into an information management system featuring ESRI GIS and a Laserfiche document management system.
“The grant is specifically for waterworks improvements,” Ms. Geyer says. “As a byproduct of that project, however, the grant will also enable us to improve our ability to deliver every municipal service.”
“We need ESRI for our waterworks, for example, so that we can pinpoint the location of water mains, hydrants and valves when we need to get at them for repairs and upgrades. At the same time, we see that other services, including telephone, cable, gas and electricity, are going underground. You can’t deal with these things visually any more and have to recognize that GIS is the wave of the future for taking care of them, too.”
As the ESRI maps are built and populated, Leoti is also implementing a Laserfiche document management system to create a searchable digital archive of all city records. City officials have three distinct goals in mind:
- To make it possible for ESRI users to retrieve supporting information, such as maintenance reports on a particular water hydrant, with the click of a mouse.
- To create a central, instantly searchable records library accessible to all authorized city employees.
- To serve as the link between ESRI and the city’s Summit finance and accounting system.
“Most importantly, the integration of Laserfiche with the other programs will enable us to automate the transfer of information from one system to the other,” Ms Geyer says. “In addition, Laserfiche is a user friendly application. Having it as the integration point will enable city employees who are not experts at ESRI or Summit to retrieve information needed, especially when responding to requests from citizens.”
Ms. Geyer recognizes that cost is the biggest obstacle facing other small municipalities thinking of following Leoti’s lead. “We could not have made the budgetary commitment without the grant, even though I believe that the two systems will more than pay for themselves,” she says.
“In addition to seeking their own grants, small cities and towns could look into joining forces with other agencies such as the schools and county government or putting together a group of small municipalities to share the costs. In my opinion, they will come to agree that the benefits far outweigh any possible drawbacks.”
The county seat of Wichita County, Leoti consistently ranks high in state surveys of per capita income and education levels. In addition to its many farms, employers include one of the largest cattle feedlots in the US, a feed mill and a corn-to-alcohol conversion plant.