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GETTING INFO: While at the 4-H fair on Friday, local resident Angela DiDomenico talks with Cj Gilsinger, I.T. manager for Cass County, about the new mapping program 39 Degrees North. County officials say they have received nothing but positive feedback during the program’s trial period.

A company that has contracted with Cass County for 10 years may soon be providing its last product to the county because it reportedly could not find a solution to a problem potentially costing taxpayers money and the county tax revenue.

Commissioner Dave Arnold says WTH Technology, the Indianapolis-based company formerly known as WTH Engineering, failed to deliver an interface between the software programs in the auditor’s office and assessor’s office. As a result, Arnold intends on switching to a company called 39 Degrees North, which is currently in a trial phase.

Arnold claimed that WTH did not meet the county’s expectation in quality of service, primarily with the promise to resolve the incompatibility issues between the auditor’s and assessor’s offices that were creating late tax bills and inaccuracies in the assessments of hundreds of properties.

“When you spend taxpayer dollars on anything, you should expect nothing but the best service,” Arnold said.

Arnold called what had been happening between the two departments a frustrating situation that created costly confusion. He explained the offices would prepare their tax information but to get it ready to send to the state, the county had to hire a vendor to transfer assessment data burned onto a CD to the auditor’s software program.

During the process, inaccuracies were created on several hundred properties. Some property owners could have paid too much in property taxes while others could have paid too little or none at all because they got “lost” in the system, Arnold said.

On multiple occasions, the state required Cass County to correct errors Arnold says were created by the incompatibility of the two software programs.

WTH reportedly offered a solution that would have put Cass County in compliance with state taxing regulations without requiring numerous hours of staff tracking down problems, but Arnold claimed the company never delivered.

In a recent response, WTH president/CEO Rex Jones called Cass County a great customer since 2000 and hoped that after the trial run he would have another shot at finding a solution because WTH plans to launch a new product this week. But, if county officials believe 39 Degrees North will be a better product, he doesn’t blame them for switching.

“If they feel they’ve got a better product with that, I am whatever is best for the customer has always been my attitude,” Jones said. “We hate to lose anything with the county, but I think the county has to act in what’s best for them, and I always support that.”

With 39 Degrees North, a Bloomington-based company that provides broadband mapping projects to state and local governments, Arnold is confident the property tax issues will be resolved because the company can interface the software programs in the auditor’s and assessor’s offices. Also, the quality of the GIS mapping offered to the public through the county’s website will be improved, he said.

With an estimated price tag of more than $20,000 compared to the $15,000 paid to WTH, the new site will cost the county more, but Arnold believes the benefits outweigh the costs and the new GIS system will pay for itself while getting accurate tax information to property owners in a timely manner.

The site is automatically updated nightly, helping to ensure accuracy in the mapping and eliminating several hours of manual updating every three months.

According to GIS.com, a website that provides information about geographic information system (GIS) technology, “a geographic information system integrates hardware, software, and data for capturing, managing, analyzing, and displaying all forms of geographically referenced information. GIS allows us to view, understand, question, interpret, and visualize data in many ways that reveal relationships, patterns, and trends in the form of maps, globes, reports, and charts.”

WTH develops GIS mapping programs for governments and other clients in four states. According to Jones, the company has dabbled in other services such as engineering bridges and records management for police departments, but within the past year he made the decision to focus on GIS.

WTH, who was criticized while the city and county merged dispatch centers, had been handling Cushing Technologies software in the Cass County Jail, sheriff’s department and central dispatch but no longer does so.

“I made a business decision that we did not want to be in the CAD and records management business,” Jones said. “We are really focused on doing one thing well and that’s GIS.”

Cushing Technologies, a supplier of public safety and government software based out of Maine, now maintains its own software programs for those entities.

As for 39 Degrees North, Arnold says the county will likely transition into permanently using it after the eight-week trial period.

“We’re relying more and more on technology and I think the best fix for the county is to go with 39 Degrees North,” Arnold said. “We want people to use it and take advantage of it.”

The GIS mapping site can be accessed through the Cass County government website. Residents wanting more information about using the new mapping website are invited to attend a public training on July 29 in the commissioners hearing room in the Cass County Government Building.

• Kevin Lilly is news editor of the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5117 or kevin.lilly@pharostribune.com.

 

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