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Fall 2002
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Impact of Government Accounting Changes Lessened With GIS

The Town of Wrentham, Massachusetts, Meets New Financial Reporting Rules Head-On

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By clicking on the map in the interface, users can create new records to the editable layer.

Cities and towns across America will soon face one of their biggest challenges in recent memory. Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) Statements 33-36 and GASB Statement 34, in particular, are among the most radical changes in the governmental accounting approaches ever. These represent a new accounting approach that requires all of a municipality's assets--capital and infrastructure such as land, buildings, etc.--to be documented to better evaluate the strength of the municipality.

The Town of Wrentham, Massachusetts, is a small New England town featuring well-planned growth and a beautiful rural environment. The town has a population base of roughly 10,000 people spread over more than 23 square miles. Located between the urban centers of Boston, Massachusetts, and Providence, Rhode Island, it offers a quaint village surrounded by residential and some industrial land. In all, the Town receives approximately $13 million annually in tax revenue.

The Town of Wrentham realized the GASB 34 financial reporting rules would soon take effect and started researching software options that could help it fulfill the requirements of the legislation. The usual accounting software programs were considered, but Todd Hassett, the Town's accountant, knew the potential of GIS and determined that it could greatly enhance the reporting functions required by GASB.

This increased functionality, coupled with the Town's desire to implement GIS, led Hassett to contact Hilltop Consulting Group, a company specializing in spatially aware database programs and GIS consulting. After conducting a needs assessment and an evaluation of off-the-shelf applications available for managing assets, the Town contracted with Hilltop to write a software application that would be scalable and easily maintained, with as few hardware improvements in the short term as possible.

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Viewing feature history about a building as recorded by the GASB application.
 

"The Town of Wrentham is very interested in GIS, and we've been trying to find the most economical way to implement it. The requirements set forth by GASB have created the need to go forward," says Hassett.

The existing ArcGIS data models dovetailed nicely with the different facets of the GASB requirements. In particular, using the water, wastewater, storm water, land base, transportation, and basemap models, along with some custom models and customization to fit the GASB requirements, the Town could collect all of the information required for the GASB reporting.

All data is being collected using a MapObjects software-based application of which shapefiles are the primary data source. Hilltop Consulting Group developed the strategy as an affordable, easy to manage and use method of collecting the data.

"Using a MapObjects software-based application will dramatically decrease the GIS learning curve and familiarize the organization with GIS, get the data into the format needed to fulfill the GASB requirements, and allow a migration path to ArcGIS when the organization is ready," said Mike Doyle of Hilltop Consulting.

At the onset of this project the Town of Wrentham had very little in the way of GIS data and software. Through the use of GIS, all Town properties, including land, utilities, and transportation (e.g., signage, street painting, pavement, and curbing), will be put on the map. MapObjects and Visual Basic are the technologies used to facilitate this process. The data layers that could be used as base layers were the parcel data from the Town and aerial photography from the Massachusetts Office of GIS.

With the MapObjects software-based application developed by Hilltop Consulting, locations of town buildings and street furniture, such as benches and litter bins, can be placed in approximate locations. Crystal Reports generates the reports, which can be customized by the Town. The next step in data collection is to capture the assets located in and on the Town of Wrentham property. This phase will be completed using Windows CE devices, ArcPad, and databases in Pocket Access format.

For further information, call Mike Doyle, founder and chief technical officer of Hilltop Consulting Group (tel.: 508-243-2908 or 508-528-4244, e-mail: mdoyle@hilltop-consulting.com, Web: www.hilltop-consulting.com).

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