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More space needed for county records

If all the paper records Island County keeps on file were suddenly dumped in a big pile, Elizabeth Fairfax would need a county dump truck with a plow to even begin to move it.

More than 150 years of Island County’s history in public documents was on display Monday — sort of — when Fairfax, the county’s records and information services manager, gave members of the board of Island County Commissioners a tour of the overcrowded building in which these records are kept.

Boxes upon boxes stacked on shelves in a 40-foot by 90-foot building near Coupeville hold pieces of paper documenting everything from billing made up by the public defender to where garbage got dumped and for how much back in 1988. The paper trail costs the county thousands of dollars each year to file and store, and will likely cost at least $44,000 more to keep housed and dry over the next few years.

Washington’s public records laws requires Island County to keep all of its records for at least seven years, which has led to a need for additional storage for records in the county’s storage building. The need for storage keeps expanding, because some records can never be destroyed.

During Monday’s tour, conducted at the county’s records building located next to the Coupeville solid waste transfer station, the commissioners and county department heads were given given the bad news: We’re out of room.

Elizabeth Fairfax showed her tour group room after room filled with shelving stacked so tightly with boxes of old records that there was scarcely room for more than a few people to enter at one time.

The tour was a visual aid for the commissioners, who need to decide whether to spend $250,000 to build a new records storage building, or $44,000 to renovate a modular building the county already owns to provide more storage. One of the two choices needs to be made, according to Fairfax, because the designated records storage building about to overflow. The same goes for storage closets in county office buildings in Coupeville, and an off-site storage unit.

“There’s a definite need for more space,” Fairfax said.

For example, Fairfax told the records building visitors that the county treasurer’s department, has exceeded its allotted storage space by 150 percent, and it doesn’t even generate the most paper.

Later on Monday, the commissioners choose to avoid building a new building, a building for which preliminary plans were already on the shelf. Instead, they decided to put $44,000 into climate control and shelving for the modular building.

When finished, the modular building would only house temporary records, records that will eventually be shredded.

Mike Shelton said the new records building will be ready for use within a few months.

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