In about-face, Becker County approves digitizing assessor, planning and zoning records
In a surprise move, Becker County Administrator Pat Oman brought the items back for consideration Nov. 15, even though the action was not included on the board agenda for that day’s meeting.
DETROIT LAKES — Christmas came early for the Becker County planning and zoning office and the assessor’s office: On a 3-2 vote, the county board went ahead and approved requests to digitize old records in those offices.
In an earlier meeting, commissioners Barry Nelson and Ben Grimsley had balked at the digitization requests because of the $468,000 cost of the total package, and concerns about whether the data would be usable by the public.
Grimsley and Nelson both voted no when the request reappeared at the Nov. 15 meeting, while commissioners Larry Knutson, John Okeson and Richard Vareberg voted in support.
After much debate at an earlier county board meeting, commissioners had opted to approve only the county recorder’s request to digitize historical records. It will cost a little over $235,000 to digitize those records.
But in a surprise move, Becker County Administrator Pat Oman brought the items back for consideration Nov. 15, even though the action was not included on the board agenda for that day’s meeting.
“The vendor will still honor the quotes for scanning projects for the planning and zoning and assessor’s office,” Oman said. He said earlier that the projects would be a great use for some of the county’s remaining $6 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds.
“I think we should move forward with this and get it done,” Knutson said.
“I don’t know how you act on something that’s not on the agenda,” Nelson said.
“We talked about it in finance (committee) quite a bit,” added Okeson. “Maybe we should move on it.” He later moved to approve the requests.
Grimsley was concerned that the county could spend a lot of money on the project and end up with data that is not usable by the public.
In response, Becker County Assessor Lisa Will said the digitized information “will be indexed as county records currently are,” accessible to staff at the assessor’s office, but not directly available to the public. It could be made directly available to the public if the board wants to go that route, she added.
“They (county staff) spend a lot of time looking for the files,” under the current system, said Vareberg.
The Assessor’s Office has 240,000 pages and nearly 19,000 images in microfiche jackets that will be prepped, indexed, scanned and digitized at a cost of $123,664.
The digitizing project will cover the assessor's office records from 1997 back to around the turn of the century, “when the books started,” Will said.
The Planning and Zoning Office has 14,000 files, totaling 420,000 pages that will be prepped, indexed, scanned and digitized at a cost of $75,600. Digitizing them would create safe, permanent records, Planning and Zoning Administrator Kyle Vareberg said earlier.
The Becker County Human Services Department also has records it needs digitized, but Oman said that, after discussing the matter with County Human Services Director Denise Warren, the best move would be to hire temporary or seasonal employees to do the work.
“Having staff do it internally is the way to do it for privacy reasons,” Oman said. “The equipment and software is already there, the files are in the building.” He recommended the finance committee look at it and bring a recommendation to the board.
While several commissioners also seemed ready to move on a large American Rescue Plan funding request by the sheriff’s office, Knutson said that it would be best to wait for the next county board meeting on Dec. 13 to make sure the request is on the agenda.
The digitizing work will be done by Information Systems Corp., which has offices in Fargo and Minneapolis and currently serves 50-some Minnesota counties, including Clay, Hubbard and Wadena.
ISC said in its proposal that the conversion process will take six to nine months to complete. The big books will mostly be transported in batches to ISC’s conversion center in Fargo.
“We will securely transport your books/boxed records to our conversion center and have them returned the following week,” the company said in its proposal. “We will only check out what we can convert in a timely manner.” If a record is needed that is in the company’s possession, it will “scan and email the document to the requesting department within two hours.”