Villages across Long Island are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to digitize government records because officials have run out of physical space to store paper files.
Some villages are focusing on scanning and saving building department records first, but officials say the goal is to use little to no paper across all government departments. Digitizing the records will also keep important documents safe from fires and floods, officials said.
“Now that the technology is available, it makes sense to digitize our records,” said Joseph Gill, clerk-treasurer for the Village of Great Neck.
In February, Gill announced that the village will likely need to spend more than $200,000 to digitize building department records because decades of paperwork has inundated their storage space.
“I probably have 30 filing cabinets stuffed with records,” Gill said. “We can’t add more. We’ve run out of space.”
Transitioning to digital copies of government documents is a time-consuming and expensive undertaking, and everyone is at different stages of the process, Gill said. Aside from Great Neck, villages including Northport and Garden City have moved to digitize their records.
“I know of places that are half a million dollars into this and they’re still not done,” Gill said.
Village officials must use funds from within the annual budgets to pay for digitizing because New York has virtually no state grants for the process, said Ralph Kreitzman, executive director of the Nassau County Village Officials Association.
“But it’s still worth it because you can recoup that space and use it for other productive means,” Kreitzman said.
In 2015, the Village of Brightwaters received a $59,000 state grant to digitize building department documents, including deeds and zoning applications. Carol Posimato, deputy clerk for the village, said the toughest part of digitizing those records was looking at all 4,000-plus building permit files and deciding what stayed and what got tossed.
“Every single file had to be looked at,” Posimato said, adding that the village hired a part-time employee because the process took months. Last December, Russell Gardens trustees said they will spend $10,000 toward digitizing records. Since then, the village has hired a second building inspector who, starting this summmer, will spend time reviewing documents.
“The first plan is to put everything in the files on a digital version,” said Mayor Steven Kirschner, adding that he wants the new inspector to do the work instead of village clerks. “If I have the clerks do that, they will do nothing else for the next two years.”
Once the inspector selects all the worthy documents, the village will hire a technology expert to create a digitization plan, Kirschner said. The transition is a huge task, but it’s absolutely necessary, Kirschner said.
“These things are incredibly expensive to do, but in the long run, this is really the way to do it,” he said. “It’s safer,” he added, referring to environmental factors.
The digital bandwagon
How some other villages are digitizing their government records:
A 2015 warehouse fire scorched boxes of old records, prompting village officials to begin digitizing files for safe storage.
All Northport building and fire code records were imported into a software program in 2016, and now all building permit applications must be submitted electronically.
The village’s building inspector will spend considerable time this summer sifting through old records and deciding what will be digitized.
Village officials are in talks with Garden City Park-based Seery Systems to have the company scan building department records.