Charging for Internet printing is slippery slopePublished 9:18am Wednesday, December 5, 2012
County recorders’ offices are troves of public information. Property deeds, mortgages and other real estate documents are routinely used by attorneys, mortgage companies, banks, title companies and just plain citizens.
In most Ohio counties, these records are available online, making them accessible from homes and offices. But an amendment on a bill now pending in the Ohio Legislature would allow county recorders to charge a fee when people print these documents online from their own homes or workplaces.
The amendment is misguided and should be killed.
It would permit recorders to charge up to $2 a page for Internet printing or charge an annual subscription fee of up to $500 to print an unlimited number of copies. It’s an effort by county recorders to raise money to fund their offices, but they shouldn’t charge the public for records the public already owns.
There is no cost to a recorder’s office when someone hits the “print” key on their office computer to retrieve a document stored online. In fact, citizens seeking records save government offices money by printing documents on their own rather than asking county workers to do it on county equipment.
More broadly, providing access to public records is a fundamental function of government. Government offices are caretakers of public documents, not the owners. The cost of doing that should be funded through the offices’ general funds, not special fees. Fees discourage and restrict access to public information.
What’s more, allowing recorders to charge for Internet printing could encourage other county offices — auditor, courts, treasurer and others — to levy similar charges.
The Cincinnati Enquirer