Maintaining an efficient and organized system of records can be a daunting responsibility for municipalities, but it is necessary for ensuring smooth operation.

The Town of Peru is wrapping up a half-year project to condense and organize records dating as far back as the 1700s, to provide a better understanding of what records the town has and promote easier access to them.

"Typically, nobody has the time, resources or skills to keep track of municipal records," said Alden Stevens, an independent contractor who has been hired by Peru to straighten out the town's massive collection.

"Once they serve their purpose, they're thrown in the basement. After a while, things will pile up."

FUNDED BY GRANT

The town received a $24,961 grant through the state's Local Government Records Management Fund to hire Stevens, who is from Rochester but has completed similar projects for other municipalities across the region.

"Money for this fund comes from fees collected by town clerks," Stevens noted. "These projects are funded by the people who will most benefit from the work."

Peru received a similar grant in 1993, but records have been piling up in vaults in the Town Hall's basement and Town Clerk's Office since then.

"This grant is for an inventory and planning project," Stevens said. "We've taken inventory to find out what records they have and have begun the process of how they might manage those records."

NEW STORAGE AREA

At Stevens's request, the town has constructed a new storage area to help organize the documents according to several factors, including their function, the department of origin and whether they are active or inactive.

He is also creating an electronic database so records can be accessed without difficulty once the project is completed.

He has spent time with Town Clerk Kathy Flynn updating the filing system in her department, including streamlining records stored in her office.

PARING DOWN

One of Stevens's duties is to condense the number of records in storage by destroying those that are no longer needed.

He utilizes records-management policies to determine what may be outdated or unnecessary and then reviews those with staff members.

When he began the process in February, the town had about 1,700 cubic feet of records; that has been culled to 852 cubic feet, almost a 50-percent reduction.

"That's pretty typical," he said. "I thought the Town of Peru was better than average; there was not an excessive amount of obsolete records.

"My job is to make order out of chaos," he added, noting that chaos is a rather normal condition in municipal records storage.

Besides fiscal, accounting and legislative records, towns will also compile personnel records, audits and records from daily department operations.

Births, marriages and deaths are recordable records that have to be stored for future generations, and records from town justice departments need to be managed.

CAREER SWITCH

Stevens first started focusing on records management when he worked for a municipality in 1991. He was required to write grants and realized that there was no clear process for records storage.

Using those early experiences, he traded in his career for a future as a self-employed consultant. He has helped dozens of municipalities and school districts condense, organize and access their records more efficiently.

He does not know where he might go next, as the state government's fiscal woes have put a damper on the Records Management Fund.

Peru now has a Records Management Plan and Guidebook to continue the storage process that Stevens has initiated.

Email Jeff Meyers at: jmeyers@pressrepublican.com

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