County officials are looking for new technology to help them store official documents.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County officials are well on their way to chopping down a backlog of government documents waiting to be copied onto microfilm.
And even though the job isn't yet half-finished, they are already looking for ways to keep from getting into the same predicament again.
"Obviously, we don't want to repeat the mistake of getting so far behind," said county Administrator Gary Kubic.
Technology will be the key to staying ahead in the paper chase, he said.
Causes of delay
Under Ohio law, paper documents must be kept on file for specified periods of time. Once that time passes, the documents can be destroyed. Before that happens, though, they are copied onto microfilm so there is still a permanent record of them.
The county has a small staff of workers whose job is to copy paper documents onto microfilm for storage. Over the years, the flow of paper into the department has grown tremendously, while budget cuts caused the staff to dwindle from 25 in the 1970s to three in 2001.
As a result, the courthouse was stacked last year with boxes of documents that had been piling up since the 1980s. Maureen Smith, head of the microfilm department, said it would have taken years just to catch up with the backlog, let alone keep up with new work.
County commissioners hired Ohio Industries for the Handicapped 10 months ago to help get caught up. For $410,816, the agency is doing the microfilming over a two-year period.
Ohio Industries for the Handicapped is a statewide program created by the governor's office to provide vocational training and job opportunities for people with severe disabilities. Microfilming is among the many services it provides.
Smith said two semi trucks full of documents were sent to Tiffin, Ohio, for microfilming in June 2001. As of March, the job was about one-third finished, she said.
That's helped eliminate some of the clutter from the courthouse but hasn't left Smith and her staff sitting idle. In fact, Smith said they're busier than ever, editing rolls of microfilm that are sent back by OIH.
To help keep up, commissioners hired two full-time workers in late 2001, Smith said. They also bought two new microfilm reading machines.
"I'm glad about that," Smith said. "We needed those machines desperately."
Kubic said the new employees were necessary to help keep pace with the editing demands. About 50 rolls of film are returned to the county every two weeks for editing and storage.
"It wouldn't do is any good to get caught up on the front end and create a backlog on the back end by not keeping up with the editing," he said.
Smith said after the two-year contract with OIH expires, the county's staff should be able to keep pace with the microfilming demands.
Technology Kubic said commissioners are considering a computerized document scanning system that could do away with the need for most microfilming.
With such a system, documents are scanned into a computer as they are filed, creating a permanent copy that is stored in the computer instead of on microfilm.
"Other counties are already using that technology," Kubic said. "It's inching its way forward in Mahoning County."
County Recorder Ron Gerberry is installing a scanning system in his office. Clerk of Courts Anthony Vivo also plans to install a scanning system.
Kubic said that within five to 10 years, all county records will be scanned into computers and available to the public via the Internet.
"That is closer to reality than people think," he said. "We're headed that way. It's a matter of economy and finding out what works for us."
Even if scanning eventually is implemented, there will probably always be a need to microfilm certain documents, Kubic said. However, commissioners will determine whether there's a need to maintain a full-time microfilm department or possibly enter into a long-term arrangement with OIH.
"Everything will be based on production," he said.