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New city records policy adds fees for research, copies

| September 28, 2022 7:00 AM

Hungry Horse News

Folks may have to shell out some cash to get public documents from the City of Columbia Falls in the future — particularly if finding them requires more than 15 minutes of research.

The new policy falls under state law, which allows municipalities and government entities to charge for things like copies and research.

The city will now have a standards records request form on its website, which will be administered by the city clerk under the resolution passed last week.

The request form will also be available at city hall.

The city promises requests will be made in a timely fashion.

“Once a request for records has been received, it will be responded to in a timely fashion, but no later than 10 business days. The city will respond to any request to inspect records with an effort to allow viewing at the time of request with city staff available to monitor,” the resolution states.

Reading the documents in house, is a way to cut costs for the viewer, as they can simply take photos of the documents with a cell phone, or take notes from the documents.

If a person wants hard copies, however, there is a charge.

“Charges for paper copies of non-routine public records shall be charged at the rate of 60 cents per page for material that can be found and copied in 15 minutes or less and any out-of-pocket expenses directly associated with the request. Items that take over 15 minutes to locate and copy shall be charged the hourly employee rate at the time of the request for the Columbia Falls City employee fulfilling the request,” the resolution notes. “Requests that are subject to the ‘per hour rate’ shall also be charged at the rate of 25 cents per page for costs associated with copying materials and any other out-of-pocket expenses directly associated with the request.”

A party could be also be charged for a city’s employee’s time to supervise document searches.

“The city will determine on a case-by-case basis whether an employee must be present to observe and supervise the examination of documents and whether documents can be removed from their official storage location. Where it is necessary to maintain the integrity and security of city records, a fee as determined by the hourly rate at the time of the request for a Columbia Falls city employee will be charged for the city’s supervision of the search and examination and copying of public records,” the resolution states.

The creation of a new policy was necessary after a local nonprofit was making multiple records requests to multiple departments, sometimes for the same document, city manager Susan Nicosia noted.

Many public documents are already posted on the city’s website for free, including minutes of meetings, staff reports and the like.

Also, the city’s municipal and zoning codes are also available for free download as well.