CODY, Wyo. — A group of real estate agents and brokers and others on Tuesday protested a fee proposed by Park County to access public records online.
The fee — $25 monthly or $300 a year — was proposed by the county clerk to cover expenses in maintaining the county's electronic public -records database, known as IDoc.
The system allows users with a password to log on from home or abroad to access public records that date back to 1996. Users can also access those records, as well as those older than 1996, in person at the county courthouse without a fee.
While some at Tuesday's public hearing lobbied for abolition of the IDoc fee, commissioners said it cost the county money to put the documents online and pay the hosting fees, among other charges.
"You folks are using this service to enhance your business and make money," Commissioner Joe Tilden said. "In essence, what you're doing is asking the taxpayers of this county to subsidize your business."
Tuesday's debate goes to the heart of changing technology and methods of accessing public information. While the county cannot charge fees to review public records held on file at the clerk and recorder's office, it can charge a fee if copies of the records are needed.
Some of those on hand Tuesday argued that the same rules should apply for using IDoc — that it should be free for users to review documents online, just as it's free to review them at the courthouse.
They also argued that providing a free IDoc system wasn't akin to subsidizing certain businesses, such as real estate. Taxpayers pay for roads they don't drive on, and they pay for schools when they don't have children. They should also pay to maintain the public records system, even if they don't use it, in this view.
"I don't think where you access public information from should have an impact on this," said Johnny Hannah of Cody Country Realty. "Whether I come to the courthouse or if I sit in my office and do it, it's still public information."
But because of the expense involved in maintaining IDoc, commissioners concluded that charging users to access the system was warranted. It was just a question of how much, and that's where commissioners disagreed.
"You're receiving an enormous benefit from the IDoc system," Commissioner Dave Burke said. "If it's not worth $25 a month, then I recommend you go back to the system you used for years and years and walk in the door and get a paper copy. You still have that option."
Burke and Commissioner Loren Grosskopf forwarded a motion to implement the new $300 annual fee to access IDoc. The motion failed, 3-2.
Commissioners then passed a second motion 4-1 to charge $100 a year for IDoc use, with Grosskopf voting against it.