By Mark Scheer firstname.lastname@example.org
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Last October, Niagara County lawmakers agreed to move the county’s records management operations into a building on Transit Road in Newfane.
At the time, county lawmakers said they had to move quickly as the records were being stored in a “dilapidated” and “leaking” building.
About five months into the new agreement, nearly all of the documents earmarked for the move remain in storage at the county’s Davison Road complex, which includes one building supporters of the transfer described last year as substandard and a potential threat to the integrity of valuable county records.
Niagara County Clerk Wayne Jagow said this week that the records move is still in the works and the county is making progress. A “dry run” by public works employees testing the best ways to move shrink-wrapped pallets of boxes was done Wednesday, he said. About 25,000, one-cubic-foot boxes of records are to be moved.
Jagow characterized the moving process as “complex” and said it has been influenced by a number of factors, including the county’s need to first acquire new shelving for the Transit Road building.
“I certainly am impressed with what the new facility looks like and I feel like where we are going to move is going to take care of what we need not only right now but down the road,” Jagow said. “I’m very pleased with where we are at now. I think once we get the bugs worked out things are going to move more rapidly.”
Members of the legislature’s Republican-led majority who supported the records transfer agreement last year suggested prior to the October vote that the process needed to be done swiftly to ensure the integrity of county records, some of which were being stored inside an old nurses’ residence described in a county press release that followed the vote as “dilapidated” and “leaking.” Currently records are stored in two buildings on the county-owned Davison Road campus, the nurses’ residence and a pole barn put up about 10 years ago.
The legislature entered into a five-year agreement with area developer David Ulrich’s Clear Opportunity Properties LLC to lease 28,000 square feet of space inside the Transit Road building. The lease, signed in February according to deputy County Clerk Wendy Roberson, fixes rent at $4.45 per square foot, or roughly $125,000 a year. The space is to house various records kept by the county clerk’s office. Ulrich agreed to prepare climate-controlled storage space and also provide the county with land on site to host a new emergency radio tower.
In the post-vote press release, Jagow said “valuable records” under the county’s custodial care were in “danger of being lost to time — destroyed by the elements — due to the unacceptable environment” where they were being stored.
The resolution authorizing the move to Ulrich’s property suggested it was necessary because the sale of the Davison Road campus to R.B. Mac construction company was “imminent,” although Assistant County Attorney Thomas Burgasser later said the two records storage buildings would not be part of the proposed deal.
This week, Jagow said records that previously faced potential damage due to conditions inside the old nurses’ residence have been moved to the pole barn and are now safe and secure as the county prepares to move them to the Transit Road site.
Ahead of the move, he added, staff have been doing some “attic cleaning,” that is, records volume reduction, by pulling old records that don’t by law have to be kept anymore and having them burned.
Jagow said lawmakers were made aware last October that it would be at least a year-long process to complete the records transition. He said the process is complicated by a number of factors, including a need for the county to continue to make the records “readily available” to 41 county departments, including the district attorney’s office.
In addition, he noted, it was necessary for the county to purchase new storage shelves for placement inside the Newfane building. Bids were sought from companies that would supply and install new shelving and retrofit salvageable existing shelving at the Newfane building, he said. A contractor was hired in May, for $157,491, and shelving is being installed now.
“It is coming together now,” Jagow said. “This isn’t going to happen in weeks. It’s going to take months.”
Democrats in the legislature challenged aspects of the records storage move last year, with Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, arguing that the county should have sought bids before entering into the deal with Ulrich.
At the time, County Attorney Claude Joerg determined that leased space is not a good or a service that’s subject to competitive procurement requirements.
Legislator Jason Zona, D-Niagara Falls, took issue with the Republicans’ push for approval of the Ulrich deal last year, arguing that any records in danger of being damaged at the old nurses’ residence could have been moved to the pole barn at little cost to the taxpayers.
The fact the bulk of the records still have not been moved to Newfane months after the deal was OK’d suggests the agreement could have waited, he said.
“We told them there was no need to rush on this and they insisted we needed to rush,” Zona said. “These guys rushed this deal through when it wasn’t necessary.”
The county has been paying rent on, and partly occupying, the Newfane records site since the lease was signed, according to County Manager Jeffrey Glatz. While empty, it’s been regarded as backup space in the event newly acquired, climate-sensitive emergency radio equipment, presently stored outdoors, had to come indoors due to inclement weather. So far that hasn’t happened, he said. Also, while having the space renovated for records storage, Ulrich had a conference room and an office built in. A county records management employee has been working from the office to orchestrate the records move, he added.
Reporter Joyce Miles contributed to this report.