SWRPA: Weston benefits from GIS mapping grant

Weston will be among the beneficiaries of more than $8.6 million in state Regional Performance Incentive Program grants awarded last week to regional planning and economic development entities across the state.

Gov. Dannel Malloy announced last week that 20 separate grants totaling $8,614,845 will be awarded under the program, administered by the Office of Policy and Management, to planning organizations, economic development districts or groups of two or more municipalities that coordinate functions and services on a regional basis.

Weston is one of eight municipalities that belong to the South Western Regional Planning Agency (SWRPA). (The others are Darien, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport and Wilton.) SWRPA has received the largest grant — $2.15 million — to upgrade and coordinate Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) throughout the region.

SWRPA will use the grant money to obtain aerial photos of the southwestern region, and to purchase and manage a GIS “clearinghouse,” including necessary hardware and software for mapping the area.

Standardizing mapping systems allows state, regional and municipal users to better coordinate planning and disaster response, the governor said in his announcement.

“Making local government more efficient will help lower costs and save property tax dollars,” said Mr. Malloy.  “These grants are an investment in less expensive government — government absolutely must do more with less. Using improved technology to reduce costs and taking a collaborative approach to providing local services meets the needs of residents in a smarter way.”

Floyd Lapp, executive director of SWRPA, agrees. There will be “obvious economies of scale [realized] by reducing redundancy and lowering purchase cost,” he said.

SWRPA’s application for the grant states, “the largest cost savings is likely to result from reduced data acquisition costs. Obtaining aerial photos will require significantly less flight time than if the data was obtained piecemeal.”

According to the grant application, by receiving the grant, Weston is expected to realize a savings of $74,538, resulting in a 0.0284 mill rate reduction.

First Selectman Gayle Weinstein was thrilled to learn SWRPA had received the grant.

“I’ve been trying to push to get GIS mapping into Weston for quite some time,” she said. “This allows us in a regional way to get all of the mapping done.” In essence, the town will be able to use the information without having to pay for it, she said.

Aside from the financial advantages, it also just makes sense to do the mapping by region rather than by individual town, Ms. Weinstein said.

“When you’re dealing with things like rivers and roads, they don’t stop at town borders,” she said.

Ms. Weinstein expects the GIS will be used by the tax assessor and by the town’s land use and public works departments.

She said she realized how useful GIS could be when she recently spoke with Bill Brennan, the first selectman of Wilton, about the possibility of turning Old Mill Road — which runs through both Weston and Wilton — into a cul-de-sac. He was able to pull out an aerial map of the road and the surrounding area, which gave a much better overview of what would be involved than just the ground view, she said.

“We just don’t have that kind of technological capacity right now,” Ms. Weinstein said.

Other grants from the Regional Performance Incentive Program were awarded to other regional agencies throughout the state to conduct studies examining the impact of delivering municipal services on a regional basis.

Still others will be used to improve law enforcement data sharing, to purchase highway equipment, and to equip a mobile crime lab.

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