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Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
5:44 PM Wed, Oct. 17th

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PRESCOTT ‹ Bids, invoices, ordinances, resolutions, subdivision plats ­ all are important documents worthy of preservation.

For city officials interested in streamlining, the question is: paper or computer image?

The issue has dogged the city for years as it has struggled with a computer imaging system that is difficult to use and inaccessible to many city departments.

Meanwhile, mountains of paper have grown in some unlikely places. Not only does city hall have a number of rooms dedicated for document storage, but four semi-trailer containers also hold records at the city's transfer station and at a fire station.

"Every little nook and cranny has boxes in it," said City Clerk Elizabeth Burke. "To me, it's kind of scary to have these things all over the place."

Ever since Burke took on the city clerk's job about a year ago, she has been on a mission of sorts to get a handle on the city's records management. She successfully pitched a new computerized system to the City Council during the 2006-07 budget deliberations; the budget now includes $145,000 for the purchase of a new system.

However, before the city can design and advertise for the system, departments have some accounting to do.

Burke pointed out that Prescott last developed a schedule for the systematic disposal of old documents back in 1984. The Arizona Department of Library and Archives must approve any such plan, and Burke hopes to get an updated schedule to the state by February.

For that to happen, however, the various city departments must inventory their records to document what they have on hand, and where it is.

Finance Director Mark Woodfill, who also oversees Prescott's information technology department, noted that city employees have not always been receptive to the concept of converting paper documents to computer images.

"We've had departments who don't want to image," he said. "They tell me, 'We can buy a filing cabinet pretty cheap.'"

And even as the finance department has converted much of its information to computer images, Woodfill said other departments often want to back that up with their own hard copies.

"We're never going to get paperless," he said. "But the frustration is that the more paperless we get, the more printers we buy."

One of the challenges in converting to computer images, he said, is convincing employees that the computer version is permanent. Woodfill maintained that the backup of the computer system makes the imaged information secure.

"The document is not going to be lost," he said.

Another roadblock to the city's conversion to computer images has been the difficulty of its current system.

While Woodfill noted that the system, which dates back to the early-1990s, has been helpful in streamlining some departments, such as finance and police, "it doesn't have the functionality for the other departments. They haven't been able to use it for their work."

With the existing imaging system, Woodfill said, "we're halfway there on so many things. (The new system) is to get us the rest of the way."

The new package, inaddition to meeting theneeds of all city depart-ments, also should make crucial information more available to the public.

Woodfill and Burke both mentioned the need to have information readily available to the public through the Internet.

For instance, Burke said the new system would allow the city to post on the Web the entire informational packets that City Council members get prior to their weekly meetings.

Currently, Burke's department prints out 36 copies of the packets, which can contain more than 50 pages each. The copies go to the council members, department heads and the media.

Even with the push toward computer ima-ging, Burke said she still sees a need for the preservation of some paper documents. Council ordinances, resolutions and minutes, for example, are permanent documents that the city must preserve forever.

And while some communities are moving toward the computer storage of some of its permanent records, Burke said she and Assistant City Clerk Judy Carson still like the idea of keeping the paper versions.

"We cringe at destroying some of the permanent records," she said. Instead, the city has bought permanent boxes and file folders made exclusively for permanent records. After scanning those documents for computer storage, she said the city also would store the paper version. Because the computer version will be readily accessible, the paper version should remain in pristine condition.

Burke has developed a timeline to implement the new computer system. Her goal is to have the new system up and running by July 2007.

Contact the reporter at cbarks@prescottaz.com