City faces records storage predicament

Langley officials and staff have just under two months to relocate a plethora of city records.

Langley officials and staff have just under two months to relocate a plethora of city records that are currently being stored in the basement of the Langley Library, which will soon undergo a renovation.

The subject came up as a topic of discussion during this week’s city council meeting. City leaders, department heads, council members and representatives from the Sno-Isle Libraries spoke about the pressing issue for nearly an hour.

Mayor Scott Chaplin is hoping to follow the lead of the town of La Conner, which has digitized a vast amount of its important documents. However, this process could take years, and in the meantime records need to be stored someplace safe where they can be easily accessed by city staff. The current location lacks smoke detectors, a sprinkler system and adequate temperature regulation.

In an email to The Record, Chaplin said he believes the city records were moved from the attic of the old city hall to the basement of the library during the late 1990s after a state audit required the city to improve its files management.

The downstairs of the Langley Library is set to be remodeled as part of a nearly $3 million project. Plans for the project include utilizing the space as a meeting room for the public, additional shelving and a break room for library employees.

Chy Ross and Susan Hempstead of Sno-Isle Libraries explained that while the library system is prepared to help the city move and store the records temporarily in a new location, in order to contribute funds, in exchange, Sno-Isle needs the city to make a commitment to give them the downstairs space of the library. Before construction can begin, a permit needs to be submitted detailing the scope of the work on the lower level of the building.

“These opportunities don’t come around all the time,” Ross said of the renovation project.

The city records need to be moved out by the end of June. With this looming deadline in place, city staff wondered why the issue wasn’t taken care of much earlier.

“One of my concerns is that the plan seems to have been put in motion before the question was asked, ‘What do we do with this stuff?’ That’s putting the cart before the horse,” Police Chief Tavier Wasser said.

Officers have been working on digitizing police records for the past year. Because of the sensitive material located in the police documents, they are the only ones who can work on digitizing them.

Wasser also worried about running out of space to collect evidence.

Public Works Director Randi Perry pointed out that this task of digitizing will place an “incredible volume of work” on the city administration, which is already short staffed.

“Until there is a solid, long-term plan that has been fully vetted, I absolutely disagree with moving forward and vacating the entire space,” she said.

She suggested that public works staff build a wall around the records that can be designed around. Chaplin responded that this wasn’t an option; with construction going on, the documents must be moved.

Rose Hughes, a member of Langley’s citizen-led Finance and Personnel Commission, said the issue has not been put before the commission for an analysis of the fiscal implications. She noted that the library was given the impression that the city no longer needed the basement for its storage when it created its architectural plan.

“The city actually does not have significant reserves put aside to create a long-term solution, nor does it have in its near term budget, I think, money for digitization costs,” she said.

Hughes pointed out that even if the city is able to secure temporary storage in remote locations, that will have a significant impact on staff who need to go to those locations to access the records.

Councilmember Thomas Gill suggested moving the records to the council chambers in city hall. He said it may behoove the council, and other bodies who regularly meet in the chambers, to convene elsewhere, such as the meeting hall of one of the nearby churches. That may mean paying for faster internet or additional connections to ensure it is a sufficient place to meet.

The rest of the council seemed on board with this.

“I’m hoping we can come up with some creative solutions, and I know that’s an overused phrase,” Councilmember Craig Cyr said. “I’m ready to surrender this whole downstairs. Let’s go find some other place to have council meetings if we have to.”

He added that this should be the top priority of the mayor, rather than water efficiency, which was a topic Chaplin brought up earlier in the meeting.

The records relocation will likely be on the agenda for the next city council meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, May 15.