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Berkeley Co. Clerk's Office working on 'virtual record room'

Deeds, liens and other public documents would be available online for a membership fee

June 03, 2011

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Deeds, liens and other public documents filed in the Berkeley County Clerk's Office are expected to be available via the Internet beginning July 1, but the "virtual record room" will only be available to those who pay a membership fee.

The Berkeley County Council Thursday endorsed a $15 fee to access the online service.

Printed copies of documents accessed via the Internet will cost 50 cents per page.

County Clerk John W. Small Jr. told council members that he was not in favor of making the information available for free, given the cost of maintaining and upgrading the system.

Copies of deeds and other records are currently available at the courthouse for $1.50 for the first page and $1 for each subsequent page in accordance with state law.

Small said making the documents available via the Internet was "well overdue." He acknowledged online access to filings in his office still will be limited because not all public documents have been digitally scanned into the county system.

Gary Wine, Berkeley County's information technology director, said Friday that all public records dating back to 1998 when digitized scanning began would be available.

An effort to scan older records is also under way, and deeds and deeds of trust dating back to 1985 also will be available, Small said.

Wine said the limited availability of documents via the Web stems from two "stumbling blocks" the lack of software for an online pay system, and the county's interest in protecting the release of personal information, such as Social Security numbers, that are on some public documents.

Some counties have undertaken efforts to redact such sensitive information before making the records available to anyone on the Internet, Wine said. The county clerks in those counties also have notified users of the attempt to limit the information disclosure, he said.

Rather than risk an oversight in redacting the information, Wine said Small proposed the membership fee structure, which effectively limits the availability of records to those professionals who regularly access them now.

Wine said about 100 customers — including attorneys, engineers and other professionals who have accounts at the clerk's office for copying records — would be the most likely group to take advantage of the online service.

Small and Wine told council members that the fee charged for copies will be tracked electronically and will cover the cost of maintaining the system as well as future improvements.

The membership fee may be increased in the future when the clerk's records are fully online, Small said.

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