In an effort to provide that access more efficiently, the county has chosen to use an online database that provides access to records, but maintaining that database comes at a cost to the county. To recover that cost, County Clerk Jerri Torczon …
The county clerk’s recent decision to charge for online access to public records and the protest it drew from Realtors and others is an example of the many dilemmas faced by elected officials as they try to provide services with limited resources.
The right of the public to access some public records is a given, and it is particularly important to real estate agents and others who deal with property sales. But others, including the media, may make use of that access as well.
In an effort to provide that access more efficiently, the county has chosen to use an online database that provides access to records, but maintaining that database comes at a cost to the county. To recover that cost, County Clerk Jerri Torczon proposed a fee of $300 per year for those who wish to access records that way.
That charge led users of the service, who felt the fee was too high, to complain to the Park County Commission, and they presented their concerns at a meeting last week.
The basic question under discussion is whether a citizen should have to pay for access to records he is legally entitled to see, or has that citizen already paid for that access when he paid his taxes to the county. While the records are accessible to everyone, most of us do not access those records, at least directly. It could be argued that those who access records often, such as Realtors and bank officials, should bear more of the burden of paying for access. Otherwise, all the taxpayers are subsidizing those who use the database.
On the other hand, it can be argued that we benefit from access to the records without actually accessing them ourselves. As an example, the business of buying and selling property is an important component of a healthy economy, which benefits all of us, and access to property records is a necessary part of that business.
On that basis, providing access to county records might, as was suggested at the meeting, be considered part of the county’s infrastructure, like county roads, and be paid for by the taxpayers at large.
In the end, the commission voted to keep the fee, but reduce it to $100 per year, a compromise that seemed to satisfy those at the meeting.
Given our current economy and the demand by some for smaller government and lower taxes, similar debates are sure to arise, though, and they will involve even larger questions, such as paying for garbage collection, landfills and swimming pools. Governing commissions and councils will have to make decisions, and those decisions are unlikely to please everyone.
We encourage everyone with concerns about such issues to convey those concerns to our elected officials. But we also urge you to understand the dilemmas those officials face as they deal with the issues, and to be prepared to accept compromise.