Fulton County records upgrade starved for cash

Fulton County’s hopes of digitizing its records, upgrading its computer systems and revamping its hi

Fulton County’s hopes of digitizing its records, upgrading its computer systems and revamping its highway maintenance procedures may remain just hopes unless it comes up with some more money somehow.

Austerity was the theme at Wednesday’s meeting of the county’s Capital Projects Committee. Board of Supervisors Chairman David Howard said the upcoming year would be the toughest the county has faced in as long as he’s lived there.

“It’s probably the most challenging we have in terms of problems with our fund balance, increases in retirement and Medicaid, and to top all of that off the tax cap,” Howard said. “The challenges are large and the responsibility is enormous.”

At the first meeting for the county’s 2012-2014 capital plan process, committee members scrutinized funding requests large and small by county departments. Wednesday’s meeting was the first of several that will look at which county projects must be funded and which can be deferred.

The Real Property Tax Service Agency and County Clerk’s Office are requesting separate wide-format scanners to begin converting their paper documents into digital format.

The county maps at Real Property have become old and worn, said Director Peter Galarneau. Digital copies will help preserve them before they become illegible. But confusion over vendor pricing quotes caused the committee to postpone the request until the lowest possible quote is obtained.

Meanwhile, the county will need space for 800 to 1,000 boxes of documents soon to be displaced by the sale of the county’s Residential Health Care Facility and its mental health department. The county can save storage space by purchasing a wide-format scanner that will help reduce county files, said Planning Director James Mraz.

With $100,000 from the county, the second floor of the old Fulton County Jail could be made over into a centralized records storage facility, he said. The steel and iron bars in the old cells would be removed, and lighting and shelving put in to create a facility that stores upwards of 2,400 boxes.

“The thought was that the county doesn’t have any other place to handle that volume of boxes and this project would help to fill that need,” Mraz said.

The committee asked Mraz to come up with an estimate for the types of records that would need to be retained or discarded before giving the go-ahead for the funding proposal.

The county is also looking to upgrade the computer hardware and software for its information and printing services at $25,858. But Howard said the request isn’t absolutely essential at this time. Though the county has wanted to upgrade its entire software platform for a long time, the project will need to be tabled for a future date when the county has more funds to spare, he said.

One unnecessary expense the committee welcomed was an expenditure for a municipal highway study. The county would need to front 10 percent of the $100,000 study, with state and federal aid covering the rest.

In 2009, it cost about $9 million to maintain 725 miles of county, town, city and village roads in Fulton County. The study would look at local road networks and find opportunities to reduce taxpayer cost for that maintenance. Professional consultants would inventory staffing, equipment, salting and sanding processes, and then decide the best maintenance practice.

“Would it be more cost-effective to have all road and maintenance work done in a centralized or decentralized approach?” Mraz asked. “Or maybe some hybrid scenario is out there. But at $9 million a year, that’s a lot of dollars being spent to maintain an important piece of infrastructure here in this county.”

Committee members dropped the project from the plan until they know state funding is firmly in place. Public Safety Chairman John Callery said the committee shouldn’t get ahead of itself, given the state of its fund reserves.

“When [U.S. Rep. Paul] Tonko calls us and says the money is in the pipeline, we’ll amend the budget,” he said.

A total of $9,781,888 in capital plan funds was proposed for 2012, the biggest single chunk of which is $2.8 million for road repaving. Another big chunk is $2.7 million worth of work at Fulton Montgomery Community College, which the county must include in its plan but would not have to pay for.

Typically, the committee eliminates a significant portion of the proposed spending.

The committee will meet again Aug. 24 to review each department’s proposal changes. The process will conclude with a public hearing in November.

Categories: Schenectady County

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