La PORTE — The La Porte County clerk is looking to return the $200,000 county council gave her office to scan old records at the La Porte Courthouse – a task her employees are already hard at work on, she said.

Clerk Kathy Chroback confronted the council about the appropriation during the board’s meeting Monday, asking the councilmen to reverse the decision they approved last month.

In October, the council appropriated $200,000 from the clerk’s perpetuation fund – dollars reserved for tasks related to preserving and maintaining local records – for her office to hire a firm to scan archived documents at La Porte Courthouse. Bolt Document Management, a Michigan-based company, would perform the digitization, putting the old records to microfilm as well so that the county also has a physical backup. 

The clerk said she was “taken aback” after learning about the council’s decision, though, as her staff is already scanning paper records into the state’s Odyssey Case Management System. Documents from mid-2017, when the county began using Odyssey, are already digitized and in the system, with her staff working daily to scan older documents, Chroback said.

Besides not costing the county any money to use, Odyssey allows judges and other county court employees to view the digitized documents. Presently, clerk employees either make paper copies of pre-2017 case files and take them up to the court or scan them into Odyssey and notify the officials when they are ready, Chroback said.

The court system will lack access to documents scanned through Bolt, however, she said.

“To spend $200,000 on Bolt, I would never do that,” she said. “That’s a ridiculous amount of money when we’re scanning (old documents) into Odyssey that doesn’t cost anything.”

Several councilmen, though, told the clerk her staff needs to start picking up the pace.

Council Vice President Mark Yagelski said that while Chroback has done a great job digitizing current documents, there is still an issue with the number of old records the county has stored at the courthouse. Several rooms are full of filing cabinets that contain archived materials, taking up space that leaders could otherwise use for a more useful function.

“We have rooms on top of rooms that are buckling (due to the weight),” Yagelski said.

Instead of paying Bolt to scan the documents, the councilman suggested Chroback hire a part-time employee to help speed up the scanning process.

Council President Randy Novak asked the clerk to return to the board in January with a plan to resolve the problem.

In other business Monday:

• The council approved county Emergency Medical Services Administrator Andrew McGuire’s request to spend the rest of his department’s 2019 budget on renovations to the Michigan City ambulance hanger. McGuire estimates that he will have between $40,000 and $45,000 remaining in his budget at the end of the year. The dollars will not be enough to fully cover the planned $120,000 renovation project, which includes replacing the hanger’s roof and extending the ambulance bay. 

• The council voted 5-2 to grant the county’s 650 full-time employees a $1,000 bonus next year. The county will distribute the bonus in two payments, one in January and another in November. Also, the county’s150 permanent part-time employees will receive a $500 bonus, also spread out across two payments. Employees the county hires after Jan. 1, 2020, will receive a prorated bonus.

• The council voted 6-1 to put the La Porte County Home property and an adjacent 5 acres up for public auction. The county will require a minimum bid of $50,000 for the 178-year-old structure, located on Ind. 2 in La Porte. If no one purchases the property for that price, the county will turn the property over to a realtor to sell it. The La Porte County Barn located near the property will remain in the county’s possession.

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