Steamboat Springs Access to public records became cheaper Friday after a Colorado Senate bill went into effect capping fees for copies of such records at 25 cents a page.
Standard copies previously cost $1.25 a page. Although the new pricing structure is designed to save the public money, Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland said the lost revenue would be passed on to all taxpayers.
"Making copies from a historical record is time consuming," she said. "It wasn't like walking into Kinko's and making a copy for 10 cents. This was a usage fee. It was reduced, and by statute we have to provide the service, so what we have to do now is use taxpayers' money."
Senate Bill 45 was passed unanimously by the state Senate in March. The House approved the bill, 62-3.
According to the Open Government Guide, produced by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Colorado's $1.25-per-page-fee was the most expensive in the country.
Last year, the Colorado Press Association and Colorado Associated Press collaborated on a reporting project that tested public access to records. The reporting series showed wide disparities in the questions record keepers asked and the fees they charged. The Steamboat Pilot & Today participated in the project and supported Senate Bill 45.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Andy McElhany (R-Colorado Springs), said the reporting series was the catalyst for his legislation. He said he was shocked to find out Colorado charged the highest fees in the country.
"It's easy for government to forget that public records belong to the public," McElhany said in support of his bill on the Colorado Senate News Web site. "It may seem like a small matter - until you actually need a document from City Hall and suffer sticker shock when a bureaucrat hands you the tab. A hefty price tag on a public record is another way of telling taxpayers to butt out."
But Weinland said the rate of $1.25 a page is a reasonable cost of providing the records.
Weinland said she has raised the price of 24-by-36-inch plat copies from $5 to $7, and the Clerk and Recorder's Office will also begin charging for postage of public records. The new charges are because of the financial burden she said Senate Bill 45 will have on her office.
Mailing standard-sized documents with 10 pages or less cost $1, while 11 pages or more will cost $2. Postage for one or two pages of plat copies will cost $3, while postage for three or more plat copies will be $5.
"Maintaining the equipment, along with the retrieval and research conducted by my staff takes time," she said. "We've got to find a way to make up for this loss (of funds). This is something that moved right through the Legislature, and I don't think they gave it much thought."
Weinland added the financial impact will be devastating to counties across Colorado.
"There are counties in our state that are very economically challenged," she said. "They are going to now have to provide this service, and it's all going to come out of the county general fund. If users aren't paying for it, the taxpayers will. It's very unfortunate."
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