By Andrea McCann
Two local surveyors are asking Daviess County residents to vote for them in Tuesday’s primary election. Current county surveyor, Dennis Helms, is being challenged by Shawn Gabhart.
The primary duty of the surveyor’s office is maintenance of “section corners,” according to Helms. He explained that in the original survey of Daviess County in 1810, markers were set as the beginning points for most of the land in the county today. In rural areas, some of the markers were fencerows that since have been removed to make bigger fields, wood and sandstone markers have deteriorated, and some have disappeared during road improvements.
“It’s a big benefit to the public and practicing surveyors to have the corners monumented,” Helms said. “When I started as surveyor 10 years ago, less than 50 were known. Now there are 800.”
He said one reason he’s running for surveyor again is that he wants to complete the corner marker replacement project. Helms said he has worked with the county’s GIS provider to be able to develop a section corner management program so everything from 2009 forward is filed electronically.
“What we’ve got today is what I’ve built up and will continue (if reelected),” he said.
He said surveying and history are intertwined, so it’s beneficial to have one individual in the position over the long term. There is no term limit on the office.
The county surveyor also maintains a record of professional surveys and is an advisor to the county commissioners on subdivision, road and drainage projects. He works to assist the county highway department and local surveyors. For example, the incumbent has worked with the county highway department to come up with road standards for subdivisions within the city’s 2-mile boundary to make them more convenient for the city to annex.
Helms has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering technology from University of Southern Indiana and has designed more than 100 commercial sites. He has 20 years of surveying experience and has co-owned Landmark Surveying Co. in Washington for 14 years.
His business does not benefit from his position as surveyor, Helms said. He said the only benefit is from having the section corners identified — the same benefit all surveyors gain from his efforts to identify and mark them. He said it cuts the amount of work surveyors have to do when corners are already identified and recorded.
Helms runs the surveyor’s office out of his business office, so whenever Landmark Surveying is open, the surveyor’s office is open. It also saves the county money when office space, utilities and copy service aren’t needed, he said.
Challenger Shawn Gabhart also said he would run the surveyor’s office out of his personal business office, Gabhart Land Surveying Inc., at no cost to the county. He said there would be no benefit to his business, but there would be a benefit to other surveyors, as he has a collection of more than 15,000 surveys on hand and his office is open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 6 p.m.
“I’m a pretty avid collector of surveying history in Daviess County,” Gabhart said. “I’ve purchased and archived just about every known survey in the county. I want to preserve the stuff we’re losing every day. As a surveyor, I feel like it’s my obligation to preserve it.”
He has acquired the surveys of five surveyors dating back to the early 1900s, he said, and has built a growing land surveying business serving the county. The lifelong Daviess County resident has a degree in land surveying from Vincennes University and is a licensed surveyor in the state. He’s a member of the Southwest Chapter of Professional Land Surveyors and the Indiana Society of Professional Land Surveyors.
Gabhart said he’s experienced, familiar with the county surveyor’s position and understands the importance of the office to residents and surveyors.
With the completion of I-69 and the WestGate @ Crane Technology Park, Gabhart believes the county surveyor’s office will stay busy as contractors move in to build new businesses. He said the surveyor will need to keep an eye on the section corners and keep the references on hand so there are no inconsistencies with boundaries.
“I’m not going to ask for a raise,” he added. “I’ll do it with the same budget.”
He said he would push forward with the work Helms has begun in identifying and marking section corners. However, there’s one thing he believes he would do differently.
“To save money I really don’t think we need to be scanning and archiving on the GIS system,” Gabhart said. “All surveys have to be recorded in the Recorder’s Office. Any surveyor is going to go to the Recorder’s Office to pull it up. When it’s already all there, why do we need it scanned again? It’s creating another place to look. It’s a redundant place to look.”
According to Gabhart, surveyors can’t even access the GIS system on their own, and the records only go back to 2009 on GIS.
“We have a good database on the Recorder’s computer,” he emphasized. “That’s how they’re recording them now, and how they’ll keep recording them.”
Look for Helms and Gabhart on the Republican ballot Tuesday.