Courthouse records to be digitized

NEW CUMBERLAND-Courthouse records dating back to when Hancock County first became a county will soon be brought into the 21st century.

Currently, the records-property deeds, mortgages and wills-can be found in cumbersome books that fill shelf after shelf at the Hancock County Clerk’s Office. They date back to April 24, 1848, the year Hancock County separated from Brooke County, said Stephanie Wuebbles, recording clerk.

“The books are honestly falling apart,” she said, noting that some are held together with rubber bands.

Although many attorneys still like the hard copies, the general public will be better served when all the archived records are scanned and digitized, County Clerk George Foley said.

“It’s going to be a lot of help to everyone who comes into the courthouse,” Foley said.

On Thursday, county commissioners accepted a bid from Affiliated Computer Services Inc., a Xerox company based in Dallas, to scan and index courthouse records. The bid of $137,821 came in higher than the $135,000 that commissioners had already allocated for the project from the Special Projects Fund.

Foley told commissioners that company representatives used a hand-held scanner to convert documents that had been copied from negatives into regular white copies.

The older documents are written by hand in a 19th-century cursive style that is difficult to read. In other books, the pages cannot be removed. “You can’t get a complete, readable copy,” Foley said.

The digitizing project will cover documents dating from April 24, 1848 to Nov. 2, 1946, Wuebbles said. A previous project under longtime Clerk Eleanor Straight digitized documents between 1946 and October 1997, when the clerk’s office switched to computer-based records.

Between 1997 and 2010, all records were scanned and recorded in books. The clerk’s office went completely paperless in 2010, Foley said.

“It saves wear and tear on books. It makes a researcher’s job easier,” he said.

There are 295 deed books, plus books for wills, mortgages and indexes, in the clerk’s office.

The public can access records at three computer terminals. The first two copies are $1.50, and every copy thereafter is $1.

Also Thursday, commissioners:

* Accepted a bid from LBRA Architecture of Weirton to do an assessment for the courthouse roofing project. The firm’s fee will be a percentage of the total contract, which has not yet been awarded, said Robert Vidas, executive director of the county’s Office of Technology and Communications.

The project entails replacing the roof, insulation and coping on the 1968 courthouse annex. Funding will come from a $97,600 grant from the West Virginia Courthouse Facilities Improvement Authority and a 20 percent match from commissioners.

Work is expected to start later this spring.

* Hired 11 full-time summer workers.

* Entered into an agreement with the Governor’s Community Participation Grant Program on behalf of Hancock County 4-H for Energy Express in the amount of $1,000.

* Moved Kyle Robinson from part-time dispatcher to full-time dispatcher effective May 1.

* Learned that Chester attorney Michael Lucas will succeed the late William Fahey as legal counsel to the county commission. Lucas’ appointment as part-time assistant prosecutor is effective May 1.

* Announced the dates for the annual dog and cat rabies clinics-9-11 a.m. May 24 at the Hancock County Animal Shelter; 9-11 a.m. June 14 at the Weirton City Building parking lot.

* Learned that early voting for the May 13 primary election begins at 8:30 a.m. April 30 and continues through May 10. Weekday hours will be from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., while Saturday voting will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Early voting will be held at the Hancock County Clerk’s Election Office on the first floor of the courthouse. The office is handicapped accessible.

* Learned that Hancock County sheriff’s Detective Matthew Harvey has been named West Virginia Law Enforcement Officer of the Year by the VFW.

Recently, commissioners also:

* Authorized Vidas to solicit bids for the renovation of the old New Cumberland Dollar General building. Commissioners bought the building for $232,000 in February 2013 and want to adapt the retail space for reuse as the new home of Hancock County Magistrate Court.

* Accepted the following bids for cutting the grass of county properties this summer-Lawn Raider LLC ($4,450) for Hancock County Senior Services, Hancock County Animal Shelter and the Hancock County storage building, all on Gas Valley Road; Been There Cut That LLC ($5,900) for Flatts Cemetery, Union Cemetery and Methodist Cemetery, all in New Manchester; Papi’s Landscaping ($7,950) for Three Springs Drive Cemetery, Cove Valley Playground and Peter Tarr Furnace, all in Weirton; and Been There Cut That LLC ($6,400) for Laurel Hollow Park, Clarke Field, Lawrenceville Park and Crestview Park.