Pope County Assessor Joins List of Arkansas GIS Leaders

The Arkansas Geographic Information Office  has named Pope County Assessor Karen Martin to its list of state leaders in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Martin has lived in Pope County her entire life, and currently resides in the outskirts of Russellville. She began working at the Assessor’s office 25 years ago, and was elected Assessor in 1999. When the counties began using the County Assessors Mapping Program (CAMP) in 2002, Martin said getting started was initially overwhelming. “We didn’t have any mapping for Pope County,” said Martin. “That looked like a big elephant, but we started eating one bite at a time. Now in 2009, we have about 89% of the parcels.”

Martin said that she knew the importance of mapping; however, funds were not allotted towards that service until the CAMP. The CAMP is a joint initiative between the Arkansas Assessment Coordination Department and the AGIO that allows county assessors’ offices to create digital map databases of county tax parcels. The data is used on a daily basis to improve efficiencies in the assessor office. Martin said that the CAMP not only gave her office the computer they needed for mapping but the training as well.  “I felt that when that came around it was time for us to jump on board, and I’ve never regretted it. That will not only assist our office but it will assist the tax payers, 911, and the state government.” When tornadoes tore through Atkins in February of last year, Martin’s office was able to provide information to the state due to their mapping capabilities.  She attributed their success to the AGIO, saying that “without the training provided by them, those services could not have been accomplished.”

According to Martin, it was initially discouraging to see how much work needed to be done when the CAMP was first implemented. “When you look at roughly 33,000 parcels… that’s a big number for one person to look at. And when you’re looking at only getting 30 to 40 done in a day, you feel like you’ll never get it all done.”  Now, Pope County has almost 85% of the polygons completed. Martin said that said she started out trying to do the mapping herself, but now keeps at least two employees trained on the program. “Then if I lose someone, I still have someone who knows what’s going on.”  One employee works on the program full-time, and the other part-time. Martin said it would really be beneficial for at least two employees to be working on it full-time, but “I know some counties aren’t able to do that.”

Martin said she would like to get to the point where every parcel is platted and able to be maintained. Among the many uses that GIS has to offer the county, state, and beyond, Martin said she thinks it primarily benefits property appraisers because it assists in their field work and evaluation of properties. The main challenge she faces now is “keeping someone at it (mapping) daily… and just not feeling overwhelmed.” However, after seven years since the Camp program began, Pope County and many other counties have accomplished a lot with the limited resources they have been given.

While funding for GIS is not exactly at the point where it needs to be in the state, people like Martin have stressed the importance of this technology and fought for support from legislators. “We’re in here day in and day out evaluating people’s property with the tools we’re given… the better tools we’re given, the better jobs we can do.” The efforts of Martin and others in the GIS community have garnered some funding for GIS, “but not what we were hoping for. Just because it didn’t go my way, doesn’t mean I lost. It’s a seed for thought; it’s a seed I planted, and that’s never a waste.”