County entering computer age for some records

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 5, 2002

Warren County Records Center Manager Hewey Purvis stands on a ladder among the many boxes of court files stored in the Youth Court complex on Grove Street.(The Vicksburg Post/Melanie Duncan)

[08/05/02]People needing Warren County public records will soon be able to use computers to view the images on screens and print data they need.

Scanned images of some paper documents now stored in the county courthouse and the Warren County Records Center are to be available by October, Susan Keys said.

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At first, only the most recently filed records will be available on computer, said Keys, county systems analyst.

“The clerks will pick a date and go from that day forward,” Keys said of the plan for the new system, much of which will handle documents now stored in the offices of Chancery Clerk Dot McGee and Circuit Clerk Larry Ashley. “Then they will start scanning back so that a reasonable amount of information will be available.”

“I would love to back-scan 30 years,” said McGee, whose office holds land records that date to before Warren County was officially formed when Mississippi became a state in 1817.

Since 1984, the chancery clerk’s office has been using a computer-indexing system that allows attorneys and others searching land records to find book and page numbers of documents they may need from record books in the office. That system will remain in use as the new system is put in place, McGee said.

And, for at least a while after documents begin being scanned, newly filed paper documents will continue to be kept, McGee said.

“We’ll have a secure copy of everything,” she said.

The system is to be installed in the next several weeks, at a cost of about $171,840, by Delta Computer Systems of Gulfport.

Similar systems installed by Delta are in place in about 10 other Mississippi counties, company project manager Alex Griffith said.

Users of the new system, accessible only from courthouse terminals, will see what looks like an Internet browser, Griffith said. In the future, the county may allow Internet access, Keys said.

The system will store scanned images on special, removable compact discs in a digital “jukebox” in the courthouse, Griffith said. Each disc holds five gigabytes of data, enough for at least a year’s worth of land records in the chancery clerk’s office.

As each disc is made, a backup copy is also created for offsite storage in case of a disaster.

Griffith said images of the documents are stored in a universal format that is not expected to become outdated.

In addition to speed, saving records-storage space is also valuable.

The county records center, in the Youth Court complex on Grove Street, stores all types of non-criminal county records, manager Hewey Purvis said. The space there, about 25,000 cubic feet, would fill up within about 25 years without the active document-destruction program he continues to carry out.

“We have not reached a crisis yet,” Purvis said.

State law specifies minimum times counties must retain each type of record, Purvis said. Cash receipts from sales of license plates, for example, must be kept for only three years, the minimum amount of time for any record, he said.

About as large a volume of records has been generated during the past 40 years as in all previous years, Purvis said.

“People are making more money,” he said, “and the volume of different kinds of transactions is going up.”

Increased mobility also means more records, Purvis said, adding that “people do not tend to stay in one place for more than 15 or 20 years.”

No cost estimate was available for the maintenance of the county’s existing records space, Keys said. As larger-county governments start to run out of records-storage space, though, the cost of imaging systems certainly beats that of finding or building, and using and maintaining, space for more paper.

“It’s the wave of the future and will be so much more convenient,” McGee said. “We’re getting ready for it.”