Surveying, Mapping and GIS

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The "Antiquated" County Surveyor?

Posted by Dave Smith On 1/07/2010 04:51:00 PM 6 comments

In Pennsylvania, the position of County Surveyor was abolished decades ago. Elsewhere, some states do still have County Surveyors - yet where still in use, it has in some instances become politicized, or may have duties which are either murky, inconsistent from one place to another, or even a position without any duties. Many consider the position "antiquated".

I, however, think that perhaps the notion of County Surveyor needs to be revisited. Not just in a traditional sense of basic survey support functions, such as are performed by County Engineers, but also toward sound boundary data stewardship.

For example, many of my colleagues have struggled with finding accurate information about municipal boundaries, corners, information on annexations, and so on. These need sound stewardship. Here in Pennsylvania I have heard plenty of stories about vital records associated with municipal boundaries getting lost, falling into disrepair, and so on - without any sound stewardship or curation. I have heard plenty of stories about disputes and nebulous municipal boundary locations, with disparities into hundreds of feet, which in turn can impact property owners and a whole host of administrative bodies, with regard to taxation, school districts and so on.

Further, with the emergence of GIS for tax assessment, there is also a role for county surveyors - in collaboratively developing a robust cadastral framework together with the county tax assessor, county GIS department, municipal counterparts, private sector surveyors and engineers, and so on.

Here, the County Surveyor could be responsible for reviewing submitted plans, for working with other local surveyors toward getting surveyed parcels, subdivisions, rights-of-ways and so on tied to a consistent system of monumentation, via GPS and other means, and so on, tying deeds and land records data to GIS data - toward iteratively refining the cadastre toward providing ever-increasing degrees of accuracy and reliability. Similarly, the County Surveyor could work with his counterparts in adjoining counties collaboratively toward building and bolstering regional, and ultimately statewide partnerships such as PAMAP here in Pennsylvania, which was a collaborative effort toward leveraging investments for obtaining aerial imagery - similar approaches can be taken toward gathering a host of other core datasets and mapping, such as LIDAR data, hydrology, roads, utilities, buildings and structures, and so on.

This model exists in various forms, to varying degrees, in various locales - however generally in far more of a disconnected and ad-hoc fashion, with varying degrees of "antiquated" holdovers in culture, and varying degrees of forward-looking approach, such as those I advocate here. As to whether it should be an elected, appointed or other position - that's, however another matter which I don't particularly care to get into today.

I for one think it's worth looking at again...

(Photo: Benjamin W. Harrison, County Surveyor of Hamilton County, Ohio 1892-1902)

6 Response for the " The "Antiquated" County Surveyor? "

  1. Anonymous says:


    Great post. As a county surveyor I was I had funding for the things you mention.



  2. County Surveyors, at least as an office mandated by statute, have generally fallen by the wayside here in Illinois as well. All I have to do is look about 20 miles to my east to Indiana, where the office still exists, to be convinced of County Surveyors' value.

    If I'm not mistaken, Indiana law requires County Surveyors among other things to establish, maintain, and document a complete set of countywide PLSS monumentation in perpetuity. It's a stark contrast to Illinois where, if (and it's a HUGE if) PLSS monumentation exists, it's probably not maintained, is poorly documented, and is of questionable value for even mapping scale applications. Sometimes we get lucky and find that a private surveyor working on some other project had a need to establish PLSS corner locations, but it's a far cry from the monumentation networks found in Indiana counties.

  3. very interesting post thanks!

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  5. Thanks for sharing. This looks like a cool old chapp, a great land surveyer!

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