Moving to improve borough data retrieval

Photo by Ron Leir/ Borough Administrator Terence Wall displays an old municipal government minutes log stored in the basement of Borough Hall.


By Ron Leir


So this is a story about municipal records.

Uh-oh, I see your eyes starting to glaze over and I guess I can’t blame you.

But just hold on a bit because, as Borough Administrator Terence Wall points out, “It may be a boring topic but it’s at the heart of what government is.

” A couple looking to buy a house may want to research previous ownerships to make sure that the title is clear so they need to check property records.

Maybe a homeowner preparing a tax appeal may want to check assessments of similar sized residences on the same block.

Or a lawyer representing an applicant in a land use case may need to examine how properties in a given neighborhood are zoned.

What these examples all have in common is a dependence on availability of official municipal documents, all of which take up lots of storage space, sometimes not in ideal conditions.

In North Arlington, official records are spread among three locations: Borough Hall, the Health Center and FileBank, a private climate-controlled records storage facility in Oakland for which the Borough pays about $10,000 a year for the use of the space, according to Wall.

Until a few months ago, altogether, those records accounted for 1,096 cubic feet or close to 800 boxes of paperwork.

But between Feb. 9 and Feb. 27, a team of workers, led by the Concorde Group, Inc., a performance management consultant based in Media, Pa., and funded by a state Public Archives & Records Infrastructure Support (PARIS) grant, “reboxed and organized records not eligible for destruction into standard one cubic foot boxes, assigning box numbers and labels to eachbox,” the consulting firm reported.

Photo by Ron Leir/ This page shows an excerpt from the minutes of a meeting from 1944 dealing with local taxes.


Then, that information “was entered into an electronic inventory for the Borough,” which, in turn, “will allow for faster retrieval of records and act as a time saver for employees.”

So, of the original 1,096 cubic feet, about 467 cubic feet are targeted for “purging” and the balance – about 629 cubic feet – has been reorganized and boxed for permanent keeping, Wall said.

But while records may now be a bit easier to find, there remains the issue of how to better keep them.

In a report filed with the Borough governing body, the consultant said: “The storage room in the basement of Borough Hall is fairly dusty, lighted poorly and is lacking adequate shelf space. There is also evidence of previous water damage ….”

Further, the consultant said, “Extreme fluctuations of temperature and humidity will hasten records deterioration.” As a precaution, the Borough was advised to “(p)eriodically inspect the storage area, monitoring for plumbing issues, window leaks, standing water and excess humidity.” And “(r)ecords storage boxes should be examined randomly for mold, contamination, or any other signs of deterioration.”

That, Wall said, may be a temporary solution to the potential problems noted by the consultant but the Borough wants a more permanent remedy so it’s applying for a second PARIS grant for improved archiving strategies.

Wall said the Borough “is migrating toward developing a data base on the Borough website that will be available to the public at no cost. We already have it for ordinances on the books but we want to expand to a more complete data archive.”

During the next 12 months, Wall said, the Borough plans to “scan in” such information as local tax and assessment records, property block and lot data, building permit applications and more.

“We also want to facilitate paying taxes on line,” he said. “We hope to develop a website that’s evolving into a full-service site.”

At the same time, Wall said, the Borough is working toward preserving its permanent collection of records – everything from government meeting minutes (once taken by longhand), to locations of underground utilities, to planning and zoning records – but also what Wall characterized as “records of intrinsic value, such as mayoral addresses or official comments “that reflect the philosophical tone of that day and age.”

One example he mentioned was the referencing by the then-mayor of the historic launching of the Sputnik satellite in October 1957 as being something “worthy of permanent archiving” because “words are irreplaceable.”

Among the things stored in those piles of cardboard boxes are plaques, awards, “die-cut licenses,” and various arcane items “akin to finding an old Buffalo nickel,” said Wall.

But ultimately, Wall said, the primary goal “is to find records more quickly. Ultimately, it’s about serving the taxpayer – so they can find what they want, when they need it. It’s for us to give them that information in a reasonable period of time.”

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