LISBON - Columbiana County Recorder Craig Brown believes county commissioners are placing politics above what is best for the citizenry by delaying action on a plan that would make 11 years of property records available online.
Brown said the representative for Lending Processing Services (LPS), the company offering to do the work for free, told him Commission Chairman Mike Halleck advised her he preferred to wait until the new recorder takes office in January.
"The only thing we're doing here is hurting the public and slowing the process. This is not the time to play games," Brown said.
The conversation reportedly occurred on Wednesday, the same day the Morning Journal published a story about Brown urging commissioners to accept LPS' offer because the company was losing patience. The California-based LPS is in the business of providing data to the mortgage and loan industry, and being able to access county property records online would save the company the expense of sending a worker to the recorder's office to do the work.
Brown said he has to go through commissioners since they are the only ones who can legally accept the $34,000 LPS is donating to cover the cost, $31,000 of which is for web-hosting and bandwith fees covering the first three to five years. He said failing to act on the offer would hurt not only the public, which would no longer have to come to the courthouse to get a copy of their property records, but the other county offices that would also benefit from the increased bandwith.
Brown, who was up for re-election this year, lost in the March 6 Democratic primary election to Brenda Myers. He remains in office until his term expires Dec. 31, which is when whoever is eventually elected in the November election will replace him.
"If I was the public, I'd be outraged by Halleck's position. We can't have commissioners playing politics," he said. "Mike got what he wanted. I lost the election" but it is time to do what is right for the taxpayers.
Halleck said they have serious reservations about Brown's proposal.
"He is correct. The election is over, but this isn't about politics and it's never been about politics. It's about doing what's right for the county," he said. "I think its fair to say the board is uncomfortable with the deal the way it has been presented."
First, Halleck said they are uncomfortable LPS would be using the information to make money, not to mention the costly web-hosting and bandwith costs the county has to pick up once the original agreement expires. They are also concerned about privacy issues should a Social Security number or other personal information inadvertently appear online.
Another concern is the move would result in less income for the county generated by the 25 cents per page copying fee charged by the recorder's office. The fee generated at least $52,000 last year, all of which went into the county general fund.
"Why would I get rid of $52,000 and sell that for $34,000 when the $34,000 is only a one-time thing and the $52,000 is ongoing?" Halleck said. "We need to see how this would affect the overall financial picture."
Much of the $52,000 is probably coming from the current shale gas lease boom under way in the county, which will eventually subside. Brown said the $52,000 is not a net profit once you consider what is spent on copying supplies, wear and tear, and the time his limited staff spends making these copies. He believes the move would actually save the county money.
"I already need more staff and they won't give me the money, so we have to find better solutions," he said.
As for telling the LPS official they would prefer to wait until the new recorder takes office, Halleck said that only makes sense given this is a decision the incoming officeholder will have to live with. "It's probably only fair whoever wins that election have some input," he said.
Halleck suggested that perhaps Brown might want to include Myers and Republican recorder candidate Theresa Bosel in his discussions and let them decide whether the plan is something either one would want to pursue if elected.
Halleck said they were also dissatisfied with the responses to some of their questions they were getting from the LPS official. "So far, we're just not satisfied with what we have learned," he said.