The proposal would allow county recorders to provide self-service copiers.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- County recorders who feel locked in by a state law requiring them to charge $1 a page for copies could soon get help.
Legislation is pending before the Ohio House of Representatives that would give recorders some flexibility in how much they charge for copies that don't require an official recorder's seal.
State Rep. Charles Blasdel of East Liverpool, R-3rd, introduced the legislation, which is a revision of a current law. He did it after hearing of a problem between Mahoning County Recorder Ron Gerberry and title companies who do business daily in his office.
"It's basically a good-government bill," Blasdel said. "All we're doing is cleaning up and clarifying a law that is already on the books."
At issue: The dispute in Mahoning County is over a privately owned copier in the basement of the recorder's office. It is jointly owned by several title companies who use it to make copies of records instead of having them made by recorder's employees.
Title companies have used their own machines in the recorder's office for some 30 years, saying it helps them keep down costs for customers. But Gerberry, who took office in January, said in April that it's got to go because there's nothing in Ohio law that allows it to be there.
A legal opinion he received from the county prosecutor's office in February said the law requires that recorder's employees make all copies and charge $1 a page.
That created a stir among title companies, who pay about 13 cents a page with their own machine. They say that's just enough to cover the cost of maintaining the machine.
Other opinion: Since then, Gerberry has learned of a Hamilton County legal opinion that says it's legal for recorders to make alternative arrangements for noncertified copies. He showed that opinion to Prosecutor Paul Gains, who said it seems to be on the money.
That disparity is why Blasdel said it's important to fix the law.
"It seems that depending on where you look in the state, there are opinions on both sides of this issue based on the current law," Blasdel said. "We have to get rid of that gray area."
Even though Blasdel represents Columbiana County, not Mahoning, he got involved after hearing Gerberry on a local talk-radio program defending his order that the copier be removed from the courthouse.
"I thought this might be something that could help recorders all over the state," he said, noting that Columbiana County's recorder has an alternative program in place for copying records.
Blasdel's proposal would open the door for recorders to come up with other ways for title searchers and the public to make copies at a lower cost. They could either lease space in their offices to title companies for copiers, or provide self-service machines.
The law: Under Ohio law, certain documents must be copied and certified by recorder's employees, at a cost of $1 for each page and 50 cents for certification of the document. Those documents would not be eligible for self-service.
State Rep. John Boccieri of New Middletown, D-57th, said all the area's state representatives support the bill.
"We're in favor of changing an antiquated law," he said. "A dollar per copy is just outrageous when people could go to the library and get copies made for a nickel apiece."
He said $1 a page would be a hardship for senior citizens and others on fixed incomes.
Gerberry said the bill, if it passes, will be helpful to him and others in his situation. He thinks $1 a page is too high but is bound by the law to charge that much.
But based on Gains' approval of the Hamilton County opinion, Gerberry said he's already working out a plan that he hopes will resolve the problem here.
He would not discuss specifics because the plan is still being developed and he has not yet pitched it to title agencies. He is to meet with them Monday to talk about it.
Options: Commissioner Vicki Allen Sherlock said commissioners would not favor leasing space for a privately owned machine but are open to other options.
They fear that if title companies are allowed to keep a machine in the building, others could then ask to set up copiers or office equipment in other county offices.
Commissioners would prefer to lease or own a copier that would be available to title companies and the public to make their own copies at a lower cost.
Any money generated from copies would be used to buy imaging equipment and eventually make records available over the Internet, she said.