Buffalo is running out of space to store tens of thousands of records that date from the 1830s, and the head of the city's records-management program warns of major problems unless a new storage facility is found.
But public works officials say that a building records storage center would cost up $2 million, money the cash-strapped city is hard-pressed to find in light of other capital projects that are currently in limbo.
City Clerk Charles L. Michaux III sent a memo to the Common Council warning that unless more space is identified soon, about $1 million will be needed to microfilm or digitize records that are currently in storage.
"And that's just scratching the surface," Michaux wrote, noting that new documents pour into the Inactive Records Storage Center on the 16th floor of City Hall every day.
Hundreds of boxes of old records are also stored in the City Court building across from City Hall, in an old police station at Colvin and Linden avenues and in other city buildings, Public Works Commissioner Joseph N. Giambra said Sunday.
"We clearly recognize the need for records management. It's a state mandate," Giambra said. "But right now, there are other priorities that have to be addressed. Priority No. 1 has to be the Broadway Garage."
Earlier this year, state inspectors uncovered more than 100 safety and health violations at 197 Broadway, a city-owned building that houses the snow-fighting fleet and trash-removal vehicles. A consultant's study estimated that building a new vehicle-maintainence facility would cost about $25 million, while renovating the existing structure would cost $13 million to $15 million.
A citizens panel that makes recommendations to the city about capital spending has urged city leaders to postpone funding any new projects in the coming year. The mayor must send his recommendations to the Common Council within two weeks.
But Michaux warned that ignoring the need for additional records space would be imprudent.
"I no longer know how to express the dire straits the Inactive Records Center is in. We have no available shelving space left," he reported. "Boxes and boxes of city records are currently stored on the floor throughout the facility."
Michaux also disputed estimates by public works officials that building a new storage center would cost $1.8 million to $2 million.
"I find this to be an unrealistic amount of money, since Niagara County spent only $500,000 for their new facility, and this price includes a sprinkler system," Michaux wrote.
During the last decade, records-management crews have used state grants and city funds to improve procedures for storing and retrieving documents. The records include minutes from Common Council sessions dating from 1832 and historic documents signed by former mayors, including Grover Cleveland and William Fargo.
"I understand that the City of Buffalo is going through a fiscal crisis," Michaux told lawmakers. "However, if the city's doors were to close tomorrow, the records of this great city would still need to be maintained."