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January 20, 2013

City council eyeing plan to charge fees for city records

The Cullman city council is eyeing a new policy that would require citizens seeking access to public records to pay a fee for copies and potential clerical work to retrieve the documents.

Dubbed the “Setting Cost of Records by the City of Cullman” resolution, the new guidelines would charge .25 cents per page for copies and $45-per-hour for any clerical work that is necessary to retrieve, redact or review said documents.

The resolution also gives the city the right to collect an estimated cost of those fees in advance before pulling any requested files, then request the remaining costs or refund any overpayment once the documents are picked up.

The resolution was taken up by the council Monday night, but was tabled to allow members more time to review the proposed changes. The city currently has no policy in place to charge for documents, but has done so occasionally on a case-by-case basis in recent years. Public entities are exempt from this proposed change. These charges will also not be recovered from customers requesting copies of their own monthly billing information or correspondence to citizens by the City.

Cullman Mayor Max Townson said the policy is intended to recoup potentially high costs from pulling together extensive amounts of data, not punish curious citizens looking to keep a closer eye on local happenings.

“This isn’t meant for someone just coming in wanting to get a copy of the minutes from a council meeting,” he said. “Basically what we’re talking about is, if someone comes up and wants 500 pages, that involves a lot of time and effort and man power and material. We’re just talking about some type of fair compensation. We know there is a Freedom of Information Act, and we’re not trying to be restrictive, but if it’s a book that has to be printed we’d want to have people to agree to some type of compensation for materials.”

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