Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
Washington County Supervisors said they were open to a plan to digitize records in the county auditor and recorder’s offices, and would likely spend money from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to do so in a vote next week.
“There’s several reasons, one is to protect those books, those books are only as good as our fire protection … if those books are (damaged,) we’d have a problem,” County Auditor Dan Widmer said. “Second, it will eliminate the need for people to come into the courthouse to research, and that really became evident with the COVID situation. Obviously it’s a convenience, people can access it if they want from home on a Sunday night.”
The move would cost the county around $120,000 up front, and $170 thereafter to keep the records stored. Widmer said the auditor’s budget could cover its share of the records, around half the cost, but the recorder’s office doesn’t have that kind of cash. Supervisors said they were open to using ARPA money to fill the gap, a fund the board has been hesitant to tap thus far.
“You guys are the ones that are dealing with these records on a day-to-day basis, and if (in) your considered opinion, this is the way to go, I think it’s up to the board to support that,” County Supervisor Jack Seward Jr. said. “If the way to support it is using ARPA funds … I think ARPA funds are perfectly legitimate to be used here.”
While the cost may seem high, those involved say the process of scanning and coding the pages of every book is a tedious one, especially for Washington County’s records, some of which predate the establishment of Iowa as a state.
“Bound book scanners are huge, they’re $150,000 apiece, and somebody has to sit at that scanner and flip pages,” said Don Beussink, Account Executive at Cott Systems, a company the county is considering a bid from. “It’s 180 years of data, 180 years of work that your teams have done over all of those year.”
Once completed, Beussink said the records would be online and easy to use.
“We’re going to do custom coding,” he said. “What we do to go beyond OCR is, we are going to code every single page in every single book so the general public just needs to answer questions (about) date range, the name you’re looking for. And then the system will grab the pages for that person and show them what they’re looking for. They don’t even have to know how the books work.”