Niagara Gazette

July 17, 2013

Despite reported need for urgency -- and $125K lease for new space -- county records remain in place

By Mark Scheer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Last October, Niagara County lawmakers agreed to move the county’s records management operations into a building on Transit Road in Newfane.

At the time, county lawmakers said they had to move quickly as the records were being stored in a “dilapidated” and “leaking” building.

More than six months into the new agreement, nearly all of the documents earmarked for the move remain in storage at the county’s Davison Road complex, which includes one building supporters of the transfer described last year as substandard and a potential threat to the integrity of valuable county records.

Niagara County Clerk Wayne Jagow said Tuesday the records move is still in the works and insisted it is making progress. He said a meeting is scheduled for today to discuss the relocation of all of the records and to allow county department of public works employees to begin moving some pallets as part of what he described as a “dry run.”

Jagow characterized the moving process as “complex” and said it has been impacted by a number of factors, including the county’s needs to acquire new shelving to meet its storage needs at the Transit Road building.

“I certainly am impressed with what the new facility looks like and I feel like where we are going to move is going to take care of what we need not only right now but down the road,” Jagow said. “I’m very pleased with where we are at now. I think once we get the bugs worked out things are going to move more rapidly.”

Members of the legislature’s Republican-led majority who supported the records transfer agreement last year suggested prior to the October vote that the process needed to be done swiftly to ensure the integrity of county records, some of which were being stored inside an old nurses’ residence described in a county press release that followed the vote as “dilapidated” and “leaking.”

The legislature entered into a five-year agreement with area developer David Ulrich’s Clear Opportunity Properties, LLC to lease 28,000 square feet of space inside the Transit Road building. County lawmakers agreed to pay $4.45 per square foot — roughly $125,000 a year — for the space, which is to house various records kept by the county clerk’s office. Ulrich also agreed to pay for the preparation of the records space and to provide the county with land on site that will be used for the construction of a new emergency radio tower.

In a release issued by the county following the vote last year, Jagow said “valuable records” under the county’s custodial care were in “danger of being lost to time — destroyed by the elements — due to the unacceptable environment” where they were being stored.

The resolution authorizing the move to Ulrich’s property also described a sale of the Davison Road campus to R.B. Mac construction company as “imminent,” although Assistant County Attorney Thomas Burgasser later said the two records storage sites would not be part of the proposed deal.

On Tuesday, Jagow said records that previously faced potential damage due to conditions inside the old nurses’ residence have been moved to the other building and are now safe and secure as the county prepares to move them to the Transit Road site.

Jagow said lawmakers were made aware last October that it would be at least a year-long process to complete the records transition. He said the process is complicated by a number of factors, including a need for the county to continue to make the records “readily available” to 41 county departments, including the district attorney’s office.

In addition, Jagow noted that it was necessary for the county to purchase new storage shelves for placement inside the Ulrich building. Jagow said the new shelving was purchased for $157,491 in May and is now in the process of being installed.

“It is coming together now,” Jagow said. “This isn’t going to happen in weeks. It’s going to take months.”

Democrats in the legislature challenged aspects of the records storage move last year, with Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, arguing that the county should have sought bids before entering into the deal with Ulrich.

At the time, County Attorney Claude Joerg determined that leased space is not a good or a service that’s subject to competitive procurement requirements.

Legislator Jason Zona, D-Niagara Falls, took issue with the Republicans’ push for approval of the Ulrich deal last year, arguing that any records in danger of being damaged could have been moved to the other Davison Road building at little cost to the taxpayers.

He said the fact the bulk of the records have not been moved to the Transit Road building months after the deal was approved suggests the agreement could have waited.

“We told them there was no need to rush on this and they insisted we needed to rush,” Zona said. “These guys rushed this deal through when it wasn’t necessary.”

Mug of Jagow, Wayne - there should be one in the system Wayne Jagow Discussing issue today