OSSIPEE — Following the acceptance by the Carroll County delegation of $4.7 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds last Thursday, the county register of deeds asked them for about $250,000 to beef up cybersecurity of which $200,000 may come from ARPA and the balance from the registry’s existing budget.
The delegation, consisting of 15 state representatives, agreed to hammer out with Carroll County commissioners a plan to spend the money. The delegation also decided to give the commissioners $20,000 in ARPA funds to hire a consultant to review the spending plan to ensure that items on it meet federal criteria.
Then Register of Deeds Lisa Scott (R-Sandwich) made her request. She said during the pandemic, she rotated staffers so some were in the office while others worked at home. The office consists of Scott and four staff members.
Scott said that if the COVID situation gets worse, the registry might have to go back to remote work. However, she learned that the remote system the county is using is vulnerable to hackers, as is the online public access to records, NHDeeds.org.
State Reps. Glenn Cordelli (R-Tuftonboro) and Brodie Deshais (R-Wolfeboro) suggested the delegation wait and see if it could be paid for with ARPA funds.
“I’m worried about the reality of COVID,” said Scott. “If, tomorrow, I need to send two people home to work, (the remote access) is insecure. Your land record is compromised.”
Right now, the registry is served by Fidlar Technologies of Iowa. Fidlar leases the registry its office equipment and also helms the website. Scott wants to purchase the equipment and software from another company. Bids have not been awarded yet.
The register of deeds, which is responsible for recording and preserving the land records of Carroll County, is a major source of revenue for the county.
On Friday, Scott said her office has brought in nearly $898,384 to the county and $10,015,050 to the state of New Hampshire.
She said she’s developed a plan that would cost $250,000 upfront but save money over time because the county would avoid the $30,000 annual lease paid to Fidlar.
Of the $250,000, about $56,000 would be for hardware. Asked of the hardware that’s leased, Scott said list is four pages long. The hardware includes multiple printers, computers and a large plan scanner.
“It includes everything we use to run this office,” said Scott.
The software to make the new hardware run would cost about $194,000.
“The urgency part is we have people in the office every day,” said Scott, who instituted a mask mandate in her office.
She said the request clearly meets the ARPA money criteria because it’s COVID-19-related.
However, Rep. Bill Marsh (R-Brookfield) was skeptical that it would meet the federal criteria.
“This is a tremendously worthy project and somehow or another, we need to figure out how to go forward with it,” said Marsh.
“On the other hand, I am not convinced at this point that we are allowed to use our money to pay for servers for the registry of deeds,” he said.
Rep. Chris McAleer (D-Jackson) said the worst that could happen would be the county would have to pay the money back if ARPA auditors didn’t approve it.
Commissioner Matthew Plache (R-Wolfeboro) said the final rules for ARPA spending have not been released yet. Plache believes the government would be lenient about how the money is spent and unlikely to ask for the money back if the county spent some on Scott’s proposal.
Plache said the new system has to be up and running because the contract with Fidlar terminates at the end of December.
“We have to do something,” he said, adding he thinks the $194,000 should come from ARPA funds. “We have the money we can spend it with or without the final rules.”
Scott wants to get the new hardware and software up and running as soon as possible and ahead of COVID spikes which might happen in the fall and winter.
The delegation decided to hold off on purchasing the software until there’s more information as to whether the $194,000 would meet the APRA criteria.
Rep. Mark McConkey (R-Freedom) made a motion to allow $56,000 to be spent on the hardware and the money is to come from the register’s equipment budget, not ARPA. McConkey said he’s confident in Scott’s judgment.
“I think this is pretty safe purchase,” said McConkey, whose motion passed 11-0.