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County records committee works to find location for archive, prioritize documents

The recent damage of hundreds of historical documents has put new life into the establishment of a formal Washington County Archive.
“This project has just been put off for too long,” said County Mayor Dan Eldridge. “And now we’re behind.”
The need for an archive became even more pressing after a flood in the Downtown Centre in Johnson City in August.
Caused by a broken water pipe, the flood soaked more than 7,000 pounds of Washington County court documents that had to be shipped to Nashville to be saved.
Since then, Eldridge has appointed a Public Records Committee that is now charged with finding a safe, climate-controlled facility to house the county’s thousands of records and historic documents.
Members took the first steps toward their goal during a Nov. 16 meeting, where Dr. Sam Humphreys was elected chair.
Humphreys wasted no time organizing subcommittees for funding sources, facilities and prioritizing records.
Humphreys, who will take the lead in identifying funding sources, said he was advised the committee should start out small, perhaps making its first grant application for storage bins rather than going straight for facility funds.
Dr. Bill Kennedy, committee member, will head up the team charged with designating possible locations for the archives.
But first, he and the committee must find out just how many files need to be stored.
In the past, Eldridge estimated the need for somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 square feet, at least, to store and display the county’s documents.
The amount of records currently needing storage would probably consume about 15,000 square feet, but Eldridge hopes to create a plan that accounts for future storage space needs as well.
Additionally, Eldridge said he recently learned of more records in other locations of the Downtown Centre in Johnson City that belong to the county.
Determining whether the records are historical or public will fall to those working on prioritizing records.
Committee member Ned Irwin reminded the group that some records are only required to be kept for a certain period of time, and could possibly be disposed of rather than taking up space in the archives.
Eldridge asked committee members to consider how the project will be managed, and suggested forming an Operations Subcommittee, with the goal of eventually hiring a full-time archivist.
Jeff Keeling, Washington County communications director, discussed a draft resolution some counties have adopted that designates fees paid for documents such as business licenses, marriage licenses and Notary Public filings go toward an archives account rather than the general fund.
Keeling said the biggest source of revenue is vehicle titles, which generates approximately $13,000 annually.
If the plan is adopted, the Washington County Clerk’s Office could direct $60,000 to $70,000 annually toward documents and archive-related costs.