The efforts to develop a county-wide geographic information system (GIS) in Winnebago County were very
similar to many other counties throughout the US. Due to the high start-up costs and technical expertise
needed, GIS has been a challenge to implement in the local government sector.
Prior to 1989, all parcel mapping in the county was conducted using standard pen-and-mylar methods. The
tedious and error-prone process of drafting new maps did not leverage new advances in aerial photography.
In 1989, Winnebago County completed an orthophotography mapping project. New orthophotography was used to
create hard copy mylar base maps. There was no digital map data at this time - hence, no GIS.
In 1994, a mapping firm was hired to create a digital map product. The chosen mapping/drafting environment
was CAD, an excellent means of replicating the traditional, hand-drafted maps. This digital environment
provided a significant increase in maintenance efficiency. Unfortunately, the analysis capability of the
CAD drawings was limited.
In contrast, the Rock River Water Reclamation District had been using GIS software for some time in
creation and maintenance of the organization's sewer network. However, without suitable basemap
information such as parcels, orthophotography, etc., the utility of the available data was limited.
Recognizing the need for a true county-wide GIS, eleven organizations obtained a grant and hired a
consulting firm to conduct a thorough needs assessment in 1998. Participating organizations had
identified that "lack of funds" was the main reason for not implementing a GIS. It was also realized
that the cost to taxpayers would be high if multiple jurisdictions were to undertake a GIS project
independently (three already had done so). Since these various organizations shared common geography,
it seemed logical that the most cost effective way to develop a GIS was to cooperate. The product of
this study was the WinGIS Conceptual Design and Implementation Plan - the guiding document regarding
the formation of an intergovernmental agreement forming a GIS consortium.
Of the original eleven organizations that participated in the needs assessment, eight agencies sought
to establish a cooperative intergovernmental framework for the purpose of coordinating, creating,
staffing, funding and maintaining a comprehensive GIS. The WinGIS Agreement was officially accepted
on February 10, 2000, and so was born the Winnebago County Geographic Information System or simply,
WinGIS. The WinGIS consortium agency consists of: Winnebago County, City of Rockford, City of
Loves Park, Village of Machesney Park, Village of Cherry Valley, Rockford Park District, North Park
Public Water District, and Rock River Water Reclamation District.
Today, WinGIS continues to grow and expand our data holdings, integration efforts, and information
delivery and analysis mechanisms. New efforts and organizational directives are developed as part
of our annual workplan and long range plan. Some key initiatives for the future include address
management, economic development, and 9-1-1 integration.
There is a bright future for GIS in Winnebago County.