New maps allow for better customer service, City Utilities'€™ non-residential customer stormwater billing more accurate

Fort Wayne City Utilities and Public Works Geographic Information Systems Department earned the Indiana Geographic Information Council'€™s 2008 Excellence in GIS Award for large cities for work the department did to improve maps used by the City'€™s stormwater utility.

In 2005, the State of Indiana GIS Council received a $6 million grant to produce orthophotographs for the entire State. Orthophotographs are aerial photos that are enhanced to remove distortions such as camera tilt. Orthophotos are adjusted to allow for a consistent measurement scale throughout the entire photo, so the photos can be used as maps and can provide the base for many other informational layers and features in a geographic information system.

The Fort Wayne City Utilities and Public Works GIS Department used these enhanced aerial photographs to update maps used by the City'€™s stormwater utility to more accurately show the amount of impervious or hard surface areas for each City Utilities'€™ non-residential customer.

By using the state'€™s maps, City Utilities saved about $100,000. The GIS department hired four summer interns last year to analyze the state'€™s orthophotographs and convert them into local maps for individual properties within the City. The hard surface shown on the individual property maps form the basis for the stormwater utility bill that non-residential properties receive.
“The GIS Department was recognized for finding a straightforward and inexpensive way to update our stormwater maps and make them more accurate,” said City Utilities GIS Manager Kevin Holle. “Fort Wayne uses maps to determine stormwater billing for all non-residential properties in Fort Wayne. We had been relying on aerial photos from 1989. We knew that many businesses had added or removed hard surfaces since then, and we needed updated information to make our billing correct, but we didn'€™t have a lot of money to spend.”

Non-residential properties in the City pay a stormwater utility fee based on the amount of impervious or hard surface on the property '€“ including rooftops, parking lots and sidewalks. The hard surface is measured based on the orthophotograph and is converted into a number of Equivalent Residential Units. The property then pays a bill based on the number of ERUs.

“The completed project resulted in a net increase of $88,000 per year for the Fort Wayne stormwater utility,” said Holle.  “It also allows our staff members to be more responsive to the public. The new accurate hard surface boundaries can now be viewed electronically by employees at their desks. More departments will now be able to give citizens accurate information about their stormwater bills, so citizens should not have to be '€˜passed around'€™ from department to department to get an answer.”

The award was presented to Holle and the GIS employees at a ceremony in Indianapolis in late February. “Indiana is recognized as a national leader in supporting the development and use of GIS tools,” Holle said. “So this is a very prestigious award for Fort Wayne to win.”