Commissioners authorize purchase of GIS software, license


Gonzales County commissioners authorized the startup of a new GIS program for the county during their regular meeting on Monday, June 10.

Jimmy Harless, who wears multiple hats as the county’s emergency management coordinator, fire marshal and permitting director, told commissioners that using geographic information systems (GIS) will allow the county to analyze and display information that can be attached to or overlaid onto a unique location on a map. Harless was seeking the court’s permission to purchase a computer as well as the licensing software necessary to begin creating GIS mapping for the county.

“Starting up a GIS program is not the expensive part,” Harless said. “I have the money in my budget to do this; I’m just asking for the court’s approval to start that. It’s finding a person who has knowledge of GIS and how to set up the program that is the challenge.”

To that end, Harless introduced Gonzales resident Greg Webb, who started Guadalupe County’s GIS Mapping Department 18 years ago before recently retiring to the private sector as a contractor. Webb has offered to help the county get its GIS program going at no charge because “he lives here and he grew up here. You very seldom run across someone that has the knowledge to do this.”

“I started GIS in the road and bridge department (in Guadalupe County) to get a handle on what was a county road and what wasn’t,” Webb told commissioners. “The elections office soon realized it could help them with things, even with just finding out in what precinct a house is located, so we provided them with maps they could use. Then we started helping the flood plain administrator — you can quickly drop a flood plain on a map and see a house that is being built or where it shouldn’t be built.

“Pretty soon, we were doing stuff for the sheriff and county attorney and helping produce exhibits for court and once you get started with something like this, it can expand pretty quickly.”

Guadalupe County now has a three-person mapping department that compiles GIS data for the county and maintains maps for city limits, precincts, flood plain, county maintained roads and thoroughfare plans. They also have downloadable GIS data for 911 boundaries, addresses, county lines, bodies of water, parcel data and streets.

Webb said he was the one who, for the most part, drew up the county’s new precinct lines after the 2010 census, though the map had to be approved by an outside attorney who specialized in that type of work. That attorney’s office handled the 2020 census update and redraw of precinct lines.

Harless said many of the federal, state and local agencies he partners with use GIS, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), National Weather Service and United States Geological Service (USGS).

“A lot of that stuff that is information they have and we aren’t able to get because we don’t have the program or the license,” Harless said.

Harless said the county can use the program to create an interactive map that can be put up on the county’s website “where folks can actually click on their property, like the Appraisal District does. They can turn on layers and see where the flood plain is or see what precinct they are in. It really is a benefit.”

“It is fairly inexpensive and we can help the cities on some of their stuff because they don’t have the ability to do that,” Harless added. “With all the information that we can take once it gets set up and all the different maps we can do with interactive stuff, it can help me with flood plains, subdivisions, weather events. Not only that, but it can help road and bridge, too. It’s not really just about emergency management. We would utilize it on a daily basis, but it would be countywide and be available to help out our cities if they need it.

“It would help us to locate where pipelines are in the county,” Harless added. “The National Weather Service has GIS files now. When we had that storm event that came through the north end of the county, we can show the exact path that storm progressed, what residences were affected and where the boundary lines are.”

Webb said when it comes to mapping, “you don’t really have to reinvent the wheel.”

“You can get a lot of what you need from FEMA or the state or lots of different sources,” Webb said. “Some things you have to do yourselves. You can get a street center line from Golden Crescent (Regional Planning Commission), but they don’t really know where a county road ends and becomes private. You can also create some things from scratch if necessary.”

“You could have overlays that show that two miles of a four-lane road were done in 2024 and the rest of it had been done last in 2013. If the rest of it gets done the next year, you can show it was done in 2025,” Webb added.

County Judge Pat Davis said GIS mapping would allow the county to replace the “black book in our office” which is a map and listing of all county roads because “it would be so much easier instead of just trying to always figure out where something is. This would be updated on a daily basis.”