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Legislators should review copying fees

The Legislature sets how much the 55 county clerks may charge for copies of public documents. But the fee - $1 or more per page  - is at odds with the Freedom of Information Act, which says copies must be provided for a "reasonable charge."

At least one judge has ruled that 25 cents per page is the reasonable charge.

A former recorder for the town of Rivesville filed numerous requests for copies of documents from the town. In response, the town council tripled the 25 cent-per-page copying fee, making it 75 cents per page.

He sued, and in 2008 Marion Circuit Judge David Janes ruled that officials in a small town could charge only 25 cents per page for copies.

The fees charged by the county clerks in Fayette, Kanawha, Putnam and other counties are not retaliatory. But they do seem high.

The Kanawha County Clerk's office collected $253,000 in copying fees last year, which went to the county's general fund.

That was one-eighth of the clerk's overall budget. That is fine if the county clerk's staff spends an eighth of its time and supply budget filling the public's requests for information.

At $1.50 for the first two pages and $1 for each page after that, obviously business is brisk.

The county clerk is the keeper of the county's records. Thus, the fee applies to lawyers, realtors, leasing agents and others for whom the charges are a business expense. Taxpayers shouldn't subsidize that use.

But taxpayers seeking the minutes of a meeting should perhaps be looked at in a different light.

The Legislature should review the situation.


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