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GIS Bill

Thursday, January 31, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Khea Adams
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HB 1649 and SB 1594, bills to give local units of government throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia the option of using a boundary shown on a Geographic Information System (GIS) to resolve a boundary disagreement between local government jurisdictions has been the subject of considerable action and attention by the VAS Legislative Committee.  Under the leadership of committee chair Bruce Frederick, LS (VA & DC), PLS (NC), PS (WV), PSM (FL), the committee has studied the bill and acted to protect the interests of the public and the surveying profession.

The House unanimously approved HB 1649 and in the Senate there was just one dissenting vote..  VAS presented its concerns to the patron of the House bill, Delegate Hyland F. "Buddy" Fowler, Jr. (R-55) in an email and telephone conversation, but no revisions were accepted.  On January 16, VAS Executive Director John Palatiello appeared before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Counties, Cities, and Towns, but the bill was nonetheless approved. 

Members of the General Assembly argued the use of a GIS boundary, rather than a surveyed boundary, was reasonable as a low-cost alternative.  It was argued that use of this process is an option, not a mandate, and must be approved by a Circuit Court, providing openness, transparency, and an opportunity for surveyors or the public to lodge objects to enter evidence the GIS boundary is not proper.

VAS noted HB 1649 provides a generic process for resolving boundary disputes and anomalies between jurisdictions.  It takes a compromise process originally enacted to address a situation in Goochland and Louisa counties and amends it to apply to similar situations across the Commonwealth.  However, like any compromise, the original Goochland-Louisa bill had shortcomings.  Codifying those shortcomings as a statewide solution would not serve the public interest.   A county Geographic Information System (GIS) is not an authoritative source of boundary data. It usually includes information from a tax map, which is often more a schematic than an actual map.  In fact, when one considers Fairfax County, which is recognized nationally and considered one of the best county GIS in Virginia, it is built only 1 percent on surveyed points on the ground. Establishing boundaries based on GIS puts public health, welfare and safety in jeopardy.  Such arbitrary boundary adjustments affect individual citizens' taxes, healthcare, voting rights, and other government programs, services and rights.  The General Assembly should study the implications of dependence on unauthoritative and unreliable county GIS boundaries before enacting legislation that could create more problems than it solves.

The VAS Board is preparing a white paper in opposition to HB 1649 and SB 1594, to present to Governor Northam, Attorney General Herring and other Virginia government leaders in an effort to reject or amend the bill.