BANGOR, Maine — The Bangor City Council will consider next week whether to appropriate $210,000 to create a digital records system for all departments in a bid to improve efficiency, reduce cost and provide better public access to municipal records.
The proposed system would replace the city’s current paper filing system, according to Finance Director Debbie Cyr.
“We’re getting swallowed up by paper,” she told the council’s finance committee Monday night. “It’s not a very efficient way for any of us to work, nor does it provide easy access either departmentally or to the public at large.”
Money for the proposed records system would come from the proceeds of the city’s sale of the former police station on Court Street.
Cyr proposed a records system that would include search capabilities as well as a public portal to give residents access. She said the system would free up staff time and space dedicated to paper records, some of which are 150 years old.
But the scope of the project is not yet known. Cyr estimated one-time software and hardware expenses could range from $60,000 to $70,000 depending on what the council chooses.
She said the biggest expense would be hiring a contractor to scan and convert existing paper documents to a digital format.
“It’s going to be a huge undertaking and we really will need to hire a third party to come in, because if we bought software and we don’t fund the conversion, we will still be sitting here 10 years from now not able to catch up on historical documents that we need to,” she said.
Additionally, city officials are not sure if proceeds from the property sale will cover the full expense of the new records system.
“We’re confident we can put a project together for $210,000. We’re not confident of everything we need to get done,” said City Manager Cathy Conlow, noting that most municipalities began converting away from paper records to technologies such as microfilm in the 1960s.
“We’re going to need to bite the bullet,” she said.
With council approval, Cyr said she could have a request for qualifications ready by mid-April to help the city find contractors up to the job. Before that happens, she said, city departments need to work together to set up infrastructure and decide on a filing system that suits all.
Members of the finance committee overall were supportive of the proposal, giving a positive recommendation for the appropriation.
“Open data is going to make us much more efficient. It’s going to save us a lot of money in the long run, and it’s going to improve the relationship between the people and their government, and that’s what we’re here for, to serve the public,” said Councilor Ben Sprague.
Councilor Pauline Civiello, chairman of the committee, cast the only dissenting vote, saying she supports digitizing city records but prefers to wait until after budget season to spend the money.
“This $210,000 is close to 10 cents on the mill rate and maybe we’ll need it for other services that we don’t know about yet,” she said.
The council will meet at 7:30 p.m. Monday in the council chambers at City Hall. If the measure passes, items related to the selection of a contractor and the purchase of equipment will require further council approval.
Follow Evan Belanger on Twitter at @evanbelanger.