Town to Team with County to Digitalize Records

Putnam County Clerk Michael Bartolotti addresses the Carmel Board on the shared record-digitalization project. Credits: Bob Dumas

MAHOPAC, N.Y.— The town of Carmel is partnering with Putnam County in an effort to digitalize its town records, a project that will not cost local taxpayers a cent.

County Clerk Michael Bartolotti came before the Town Board recently and explained that the county hopes to use a shared-services grant through the state Records Archive Administration to do the project

He said it’s the second time the county has undertaken such a project where it teamed with some of its municipalities to digitalize their records. He said the first project met with great success.

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“Each municipality identifies a record series it wants to make part of the [project],” he said.

The first time the county did this project it purchased a software package called Laserfiche Rio, which is used to digitalize the records and keep track of them.

“It’s great software,” Bartolotti said. “We looked at three or four software suites and this was heads above the others. It’s a fantastic software. It is easy and simple to use and easy to build upon as you have more record series to put in. It’s easier than opening a cabinet and flipping through files. It’s amazing.”

Bartolotti said the county has purchased all the peripherals needed for the project and they are housed at the county’s IT Department.

“We can utilize services on the county level to help out the towns and villages,” he said. “Instead of brick and mortar, we are doing it with server racks [to digitalize] the records.”

Bartolotti stressed that even though Putnam County is partnering with Carmel, the records remain the sole property of the town.

“These are and always will remain your records. I don’t want them. I have enough,” he said. “Your able town clerk will take care of them. We will work together just because it’s an efficiency to do it that way.”

Bartolotti said the grant could be as much as $150,000 and he’s optimistic the county will get it all and then be ready to share it with the remaining towns who want to take part in the project.

“We will make space at the table for everyone.,” he said. “We are confident we will continue to get these grants. These grants are very competitive but we have an advantage because we are doing shared services and these scanning projects get high priority because this is the direction that record-keeping needs to go.”

He noted that the state favors grants for projects that utilize a shared-services approach.

Bartolotti also praised Carmel Town Clerk Ann Spofford and her staff for the work they’ve done on the project.

“They’ve done a ton of work,” he said. “It’s a daunting task to quantify what you have to get scanned. You have thousands of files. You have to get proper estimates so we can get the money to complete the project.

“It’s an extremely worthwhile project and it is just the beginning. We will grow from here,” he added.

Spofford said that she and her staff have chosen the town’s planning and zoning records to be digitized first because they require the most access and take up the most space in the record storage area.

She pointed out that if the town had undertaken the project itself, it would have been costly.

“If we had to purchase the software alone for this project it would be upwards to $40,000,” she told the Town Board. “To digitize the records would [cost] over $100,000. So, I had been requesting for years that the Town Board put money aside for this project but now we have this opportunity at no cost to the town.”

Supervisor Ken Schmitt also praised Spofford for being proactive and taking the reins in the digitalization project.

“It was your initiative that brought this to the forefront—the possibility of partnering with Putnam County and sharing of these services,” he told Spofford. “You did come to me and ran it by me and I said, ‘yes let’s run with it.’ If there is funding out there that will assist us in moving into the 21st century with digitizing our records at no cost to the taxpayers, let’s do it. It is a wonderful initiative; partnering is awesome and there should be more of it and hopefully it will evolve.”

Bartolotti said the county is working with a vendor on Long Island that is run by the New York State Institution on Disability to do the actual document scanning.

“We box them up and drive them down there,” he said. “The [grant] reviewers like to see us bring something to the table and we know it is difficult for the towns to do that because they are spread so thin, but we have more resources. Our driver will ferry them down there and they usually have them for a couple of weeks. The nice thing is, if someone needs a record on the fly, we email it to [the scanning company], they scan it and email it back to us.”

Bartolotti said that when the scanning is complete, the company provides a portable hard drive containing all the images and will have the hard copies boxed back up and ready for pick-up.

He added that the county now has the capability of doing its own wide-format scanning for larger documents.

“A regular format to scan is about a nickel; a wide format is about $1.10,” he noted. “So, we were able to find some money in our 2016 budget to purchase our own wide-format scanner, which we have at the county record center. We have the time and the resources to scan those wide-formats. Those are the sort of things we can bring to the table.”

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