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Fee increase opposed by treasurer

March 24, 1998|By DON AINES

Fee increase opposed by treasurer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - It's just $2, but Franklin County Treasurer Steve Minnich says, "A tax, is a tax, is a tax."

On Monday, the cost of recording deeds, mortgages and other documents at the county recorder of deeds office in Pennsylvania will go up $2. That's because of House Bill 196, which sailed through the General Assembly two months ago.

Minnich's office won't be collecting the money that will go into the new County Improvement Fund, but like other row officers, he would be entitled to some of it to improve his record-keeping.

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"This is nothing more than a slush fund for the elected row officers at taxpayers' expense," Minnich said. Although bankers, realtors, attorneys and abstractors will pay the fee, he said the cost will be passed on to taxpayers.

"The day I take a dollar of that money is the day I resign from office," Minnich said.

Collecting the money will be Linda Miller, register of wills and recorder of deeds, who noted the $13.50 recording fee for her office hasn't gone up since 1982. The new law "says I shall collect it, so I don't really have a choice," she said.

Half of the $2 will be used for improving records management in Miller's office. The other dollar goes to a fund for the other row officers.

Last week, as the law requires, the county commissioners and row officers formed a committee to manage the fund. The law says the county treasurer shall be on the committee, but Minnich did not attend the meeting.

Miller said the money will improve services for the public.

"Our books are getting worn out. They're used by the public hard," she said. The funds can also be used to upgrade computers and other technology, although Miller said the fee won't generate great sums of money.

She estimates it will raise about $20,000 a year for her office and an equal amount for the other offices.

"I really don't have a want for anything right now," Clerk of Courts William Vandrew said. He said most of his fees are set by the state, but improving the technology in the offices will benefit consumers.

"Whether (Minnich) wants to participate in that is entirely up to him," Vandrew said of the committee.

"It's not a tax, it's a user's fee," said Sheriff Robert Wollyung. He said it's up to each row officer to determine how the money can best be used to serve the public.

Wollyung said row offices may reduce other budget requests because money for technological improvements will be accruing in a separate account.

"To me it's a tax," said Adams County Register and Recorder Betty Pitzer. Whether it's a deed, mortgage or mortgage satisfaction, she said property owners will pay the $2.

Pitzer said the issue is more sensitive in her county because an ordinance last year raised recording fees from $13.50 to $25. That was allowed under a 1992 state law giving counties the option of doubling fees, with the money being set aside for affordable housing programs.

At the same time, she said her employees take the heat from the public for the higher fees.

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