Wisconsin 2013-15 biennial budget bill invests in geospatial programs Print
By AJ Wortley   
July 12, 2013

On June 30, Governor Walker signed Act 20, Wisconsin's 2013-15 biennial budget, into law. The full text of Act 20 can be found here. Just over four months ago in the Mapping Bulletin, we reported on some proposed geospatial initiatives in the Governor's original budget proposal. Below is a brief synopsis of final budget provisions that directly impact Wisconsin's geospatial community and the Wisconsin Land Information Program (WLIP) administered by the Department of Administration (DOA).

DOA directed to create statewide digital parcel map

According to Act 20, the DOA is charged with the creation of an implementation plan for a statewide digital parcel map. There are many details to be worked out on how this implementation planning will proceed. However, it is encouraging to see high-level recognition of the importance of integrated statewide parcel mapping within the budget. It is anticipated that the implementation plan will address a sustainable process for continued improvement of the integrated parcel map, including targeting strategic WLIP investments for local data improvement.  Such strategic investments necessitate additional funding within the WLIP, as discussed below.

Increased funding to WLIP 

Act 20 repeals the sunset on a $5 land records transaction fee currently used for redaction activities within county Register of Deeds' offices. Further, the budget re-directs this fee as of January 1, 2015 to be remitted to DOA as part of the WLIP fund. It is anticipated that the net impact of this measure, starting in 2015, will be an additional $5 to $6 million available annually through WLIP grants for statewide land records modernization. Beyond providing minimum land records base budgets and training funds to counties, we might expect that any strategic investment at the local level toward the statewide parcel map would benefit from this additional funding.

In a March, 2013 memo to land information stakeholders written several months before budget details were finalized, DOA Division of Intergovernmental Relations Administrator Ed Eberle described how the parcel initiative would support a variety of important derivative datasets such as municipal boundaries, school districts, and public lands. He stated that once the budget was passed, "much of the reallocated fee revenue submitted to the Department of Administration would be targeted for investment at the local level, likely in the form of Wisconsin Land Information Program strategic initiative grants."

Another positive sign is language included in Act 20 that designates the WLIP fund as a "separate nonlapsible trust fund" to discourage the fund from being eligible for lapses into the state's general purpose revenue, as has occurred in the last several years. This new language is a strong signal that legislators view the WLIP fund as important to the long-term welfare of the state.

Increases in county base budget grant eligibility and training grants

In recognition of the importance of Wisconsin's county land information operations as part of a statewide land information program, Act 20 will invest additional funds into many county land information offices by increasing eligibility for land information base budget grants. Until now, counties that retained less than $50,000 in funding toward their local land information operations were eligible for a WLIP base budget grant. This base budget grant program brought all counties to a minimum funding threshold of $50,000 (given funds availability). Beginning in FY 2014, Act 20 increases this base budget amount to at least $100,000. 2012 revenue figures show that this new threshold will result in a change from 33 counties eligible for base budget grants in 2013 to approximately 45 counties in 2014.

Additionally, the budget calls for an increase in the amount of annual training and education grants allocated to each county, from $300 per year currently to $1000 per year in FY 2014. This is a promising sign recognizing the continuing education needs of the professional workforce engaged in statewide mapping and land information modernization and maintenance.

The increase in funding to county land information offices includes additional measures on accountability. Act 20 includes a priority list of parcel-related information that must be addressed over the next two years as well as codified penalties for not meeting minimum WLIP requirements. Additionally, it requires a new 3-year interval for updates to county business plans, rather than the current 5-year interval.

DNR to promulgate rules on Deer Trustee Report recommendations

Act 20 authorizes the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to "promulgate rules to implement the recommendations" contained in the 2012 Deer Trustee Report by James Kroll. This report contains several recommendations for improving geospatial service delivery in the state, including updating the 20-year old WISCLAND land cover map, and the development of a system for delivery of statewide geospatial data.

It takes a community

The provisions outlined above are the most prominent in two decades to directly address needed improvements in Wisconsin’s mapping and land information systems.  As with any high level initiatives, there are many details to be worked out toward successful implementation. In recent months we have been assured by the DOA that any statewide parcel map implementation planning would include a prominent input role for contributing stakeholders and end-users. In his March, 2013 memo, for example, Ed Eberle stated that “we will seek input from county surveyors, land information officers, register of deeds, state agency GIS staff, and other stakeholders” when developing the implementation plan.

This budget bill gives a vote of confidence to Wisconsin's geospatial community, as well as a funding mechanism to achieve statewide goals that the community has long been advocating for. The state's geospatial community should be commended for coming together to advocate for changes in funding and priorities, and seeing these efforts through to a successful conclusion. Hopefully this same spirit of cooperation and open-mindedness will prevail when we begin to engage in opportunities for stakeholder input in making the next generation of Wisconsin's statewide land information system a reality. The ball is now in our court.