Benton County hopes to employ paperless system

Boxes upon boxes of paper records will be scanned and digitized as part of a growing effort in Benton County government to move toward a paperless system.

The action will improve security of the documents -- which could be lost forever in the case of a storage area flood or similar event -- free up storage space for other uses, improve efficiency and shrink the county's footprint thereby reducing costs, county officials said Tuesday.

The county's deputy administrator gave a presentation to county commissioners on going paperless -- a concept they've advocated before and greeted enthusiastically.

"It makes a lot of sense, especially with the newer generations coming up. They're going to be used to this," said Commissioner Jerome Delvin. "The public is getting more and more used to this."

The idea is that the county eventually will operate using as little paper as possible, with digital records and online forms.

And dealing with the backlog of paper records is an important step, officials said.

The proposal Tuesday involved digitizing "historic" paper records -- which could include those from recent months to years ago -- from the county Clerk's Office, District Court and the Office of Public Defense. The effort could cost an estimated $918,000 over five years, including hiring employees to do the work and paying for equipment. The county also could contract out the work.

County staff and department leaders will meet to develop an implementation plan.

Some other county departments already have documents digitized; others could be folded in or addressed separately down the road.

Loretta Smith Kelty, the deputy county administrator, said many county offices are establishing processes to digitize new documents as they come in. In some cases that means scanning them and in others it means moving to online forms.

Also Tuesday:

-- Commissioners approved a letter to Maia Bellon, director of the state Department of Ecology, thanking her for a June 7 letter "signifying your quick response on our request to withdraw from the (Lower Yakima Valley Groundwater Management Area) and pursue creation of a new GWMA for the whole of Benton County."

The letter acknowledges the "varied and complex" nature of water issues throughout the state and says commissioners value the relationship with the Ecology "and the opportunities to work with your staff, even though at times there can be a little bit of abrasiveness in that work based on the nature of it and the goals different parties have."

The letter proposes "a small 'water summit'" with Bellon, key Ecology staff and other stakeholders in the Tri-Cities.

-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald