Mission To Modernize
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FRIO COUNTY CLERK TAKES ON A DAUTING TASK
Since the day he took office, Frio County Clerk Aaron Ibarra has worked to create a user-friendly environment meeting the demands of modern technology.
“Just because we are in a small county does not mean I want my office not to have those features of bigger counties,” Ibarra said during an interview last week.
Three years ago, Ibarra won a special election after former clerk Angie Tullis announced retirement. The next year, Ibarra’s name was on the ballot again and he garnered enough votes to take office for another four years.
The new county clerk began a journey to modernize records as soon as he took office, intending to integrate all the elements of modern technology in the system.
It has proven a daunting task.
“This is something I have been trying to do since I first took office,” the county clerk said. “I am just now getting the funding and received some grant money for it.”
Late last month, Ibarra’s office was able to digitize deed and land records for Frio County dating back to 2004. Those records include mineral rights ownership, rights of way, easements, liens and everything else that is considered official public records and been made available online.
Birth and death certificates were launched online late last year.
“I am lucky to have smart staff to easily learn the stuff and want to upgrade the office,” he said.
Ibarra said the coronavirus pandemic highlighted how inconvenient it can be for individuals to come into his office to retrieve records which, he says, are pertinent and required for many things such as earning a driver’s license, registering for school or buying a home.
The clerk said he had the idea to digitize his office when he began setting up a satellite office in Dilley in early 2020.
“Then COVID hit,” he said.
Ibarra’s quest was immediately halted as commissioners sought to find a way to continue meeting during a nationwide health crisis.
“They could not come into the office to have meetings,” he said. “So I quickly set up zoom meetings for them, which is something I continue to do and the meetings are immediately available on the county’s website. So it was like a domino effect, really.”
The clerk said the pandemic made him realize that it is not really feasible for people who live in other towns in the county to come into the office.
“Rather than having to come into the office, they can just go online, do their research, pay for it online and get the images right there and then,” he said. “I mean, if you are home on a Saturday evening, obviously we are closed, and you need a deed you can just go online and get it.”
Three years ago, Ibarra’s office implemented a $10 research fee that he set aside to fund the digitization project. He intends to continue levying the fee in order to pursue further digitizing records and updating his system.
Ibarra says it will take three years to fully digitize the clerk’s office.
So far, his office has been able to contribute $200,000 to the effort, and the commissioners’ court has approved allocating $400,000 for the project.
“Our contribution came from fees we charged for research and through grant monies I was able to secure,” Ibarra said.
Anyone looking for records online can go to www.friocounty.org, tap on the county clerk’s tab, then online deeds and land records tabs.
There is a dollar per page fee, which is same price someone would pay if they went into office.
“It is a website, it is open twenty-four, seven,” Ibarra said.
Beginning November 28 through December 16, Scott-Merriman Inc., the company hired to transpose the records, will begin scanning and digitizing 866 books of historical data. Those books, Ibarra said, will provide information from 1930 through 2004.
Just under 5,000 books need to be digitized.
The clerks said he is currently researching how his office can make marriage licenses readily available online. He said he understands he cannot have initial marriage licenses available through the website due to Texas law requiring in-person questionnaires, but he sees the benefits of having license copies available.
Ibarra wants to have cattle brands online as well.
“It will make it easier for ranchers who want to get brands and for the sheriff’s office to look up brands,” he said.
The clerk’s staff is responsible for uploading new records to the website, which will make the vital information available within 48 hours.
“Now that this avenue is open we can start looking at uploading probates to the website,” he said. “These websites are the pivot point; they are the springboards for everything in my office.”