OHIO COUNTIES Recorders rake in fees as rates fall

Collections in local county recorders' offices hit all-time highs last year.
YOUNGSTOWN -- For many county government offices, the economic downturn that followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America was cause for penny pinching and nail biting.
Curtailed retail sales meant losses in sales tax revenue, the financial lifeline of most county operations.
But at the other end of the spectrum were county recorders, who reaped benefits of interest rates that were lowered like a limbo bar in hopes of lifting the sagging economy.
Seizing opportunity: Each time the rates were lowered, more and more people seized the opportunity to refinance their mortgage loans. The buyers ended up in their county recorder's office, and that led to record amounts of fee collection.
"Each time a loan is refinanced, there are more documents to be recorded," said Ron Gerberry, Mahoning County recorder.
Under Ohio law, it costs $14 to file the first two pages of a document with the recorder's office, and $4 for each page after that.
The recorder's office keeps $4 from each filing fee for its own operation, with the rest going into the county's general fund, Gerberry said. In 2001, Mahoning County saw an increase of more than $413,000 over 2000's total collection.
Columbiana and Trumbull counties also saw huge increases in their recorder's office revenue. Recorders are also responsible for filing land contracts, liens, powers of attorney and other documents, but officials in all three counties attributed last year's bonanza to the rush to refinance. All said their 2001 totals were all-time highs.
"It was a busy year for us," said Barbara Adams, Trumbull County chief deputy recorder.
All together, the three counties saw an increase of $930,456 in collections between 2000 and 2001.
All over Ohio: Lorain County Recorder Mary Ann Jamison, first vice president of the Ohio Recorders Association, said it was the same all over the state. The Federal Reserve lowered interest rates last year to their lowest levels in decades, Jamison said.
It was the first time in years that the rates had been cut, she said.
"People were able to take advantage and refinance their mortgages," Jamison said. "Everybody just decided to get out there and go for it."
Because the bulk of fee collections goes into the general fund, Gerberry said, the unexpected windfall will provide at least a little help offsetting a minor slump in sales tax revenue last year.
Jamison said the upswing in recorder fee collections hasn't let up. Some counties across the state reported record monthly collections for January, though it's too soon to tell whether things will stay that way.
"We're keeping our fingers crossed that the trend will continue," she said.
Mahoning County Commissioner Ed Reese said the extra revenue will help, but he doesn't expect it to last.
"It happened because the economy is bad," Reese said.

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