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County Clerk looks to digitize archives

By Melissa Crowe
Aug. 12, 2013 at 3:12 a.m.


BUDGET SCHEDULE

Aug. 26 - Discuss effective and rollback tax rates, publish hearings of public meetings

Aug. 30 - File proposed budget with the county clerk

Sept. 9 - First budget hearing scheduled after commissioners court

Sept. 12 - Second public hearing, 1 p.m.

Sept. 16 - Adopt the budget and tax rate

A plan to restore and preserve Victoria's most historic records could soon come to fruition.

Victoria County Clerk Robert Cortez presented his plan for archive management during Monday afternoon's commissioners court budget workshop.

To fund the plan, which would digitize public records dating back to the early 1800s, Cortez proposed a $5 flat fee charged for filing specific documents - deed records, deeds of trust, assumed name records, cattle brands, subdivision maps, official records, probate records and marriage licenses.

He estimated the fee would generate $78,000 annually from the fee charged on those documents to preserve records from 1950 and earlier.

County Judge Don Pozzi asked that the plan come for official approval in front of the commissioners court.

He said the archive plan would not require money from the general fund but would be self-sustaining.

"I personally see no downside to it," Pozzi said.

The fee was initiated in 2003 by the state legislature and is set to increase to $10, Cortez said. Victoria County is one of the few counties in Texas that have not implemented it.

Cortez highlighted the importance of the program by saying these documents are not like a piece of equipment that can be tossed when it wears out.

"These records are permanent," Cortez said. "These books of record have been designated as permanent and forever."

Martha Jones, past president of the Texas State Genealogical Society and retiree from Victoria College and University of Houston-Victoria, spoke in support of the archive plan.

"We know what can happen to records," Jones said. "As a genealogist and historian, we're very interested in keeping these records (in tact) and making them available to people."

By digitizing the documents, they are made available worldwide.

Victoria College and University of Houston-Victoria Director of Libraries Joe Dahlstrom said historical research is based largely on these primary documents and first person accounts.

"Many of those historic documents are either manuscript materials or legal documents that are primarily housed in the county clerk's office," Dahlstrom said. "They need to be preserved and digitized. ... This is important for historical research now and for the future."

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