Update to system will help Hayden's town staff

Close to 100 years of paperwork slows search for records

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— Hayden became an incorporated town in 1906. That same year, the town began collecting paperwork.

Ninety-six years later, in a fireproof vault no bigger than a walk-in closet, Hayden stores books of ordinances and minutes typed on tattered onionskin paper from as far back as the founding days of the town.

Every time Town Clerk Lisa Johnston walks into the room to look up a deed or an ordinance from past decades, she sets aside the whole day to do it.

"When we have to look for something, we just shrug and say, 'Another needle in the haystack,'" she said.

During the 2003 budget cycle, the Town Hall staff asked the Town Board to approve the purchase of a document scanner to store all of the records into a computer. They approved the purchase out of the capital replacement fund. In that fund, the share set aside for administrative purposes is $46,000.

Having records available at a keystroke will not only save time, but it will also spare town employees the nerve-shattering process of looking through old and worn records without the fear of tearing pages.

Though Johnston has never torn any of the thin documents, she is painfully aware that doing so would involve criminal penalties, she said.

Johnston hopes to scan all documents to a disk with a scanner that can read typed and written words. The text would then be searchable by keyword.

The kind of system that would accomplish such a task starts at about $15,000, Johnston said.

The original documents would be kept but would be left unused for preservation's sake.

One set of disks will be stored in a separate location from Town Hall, most likely in a safe-deposit box at the bank.

The computer searchable records would be more accessible to the public, Johnston said. Once the labor-intensive process of scanning each page of every stored document were complete, Johnston envisions the results being posted on Hayden's Web site.

The town has acquired a domain on the Internet, but the board has yet to approve the spending for the Web site development.

When Hayden residents request information from the town easement histories, for example the asker is charged for all time spent on the search.

If the town attorney is involved, it can cost as much as $105 per hour.

Town staff legally has three days to provide the requested information.

"If records were available on the Web, it will be convenience without the cost," Johnson said.

Not all town records are stored forever. By state statute, minutes, resolutions, deeds, public utility construction files and all applications of employees must be saved permanently.

Other records, such as tape recordings of Town Board meetings, can be destroyed after one year.

At the beginning of every year, Johnston receives a destruct order from the state archivist telling her which records can be thrown into the incinerator.

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