SEVIERVILLE — Sevier County has asked the state to consider the county’s reasoning for implementing a $50 fee for records at the medical examiner’s office, after the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office indicated it didn’t appear to follow state law.
The county commission is set to consider a measure Monday that would create the fee at the medical examiner’s office, along with several other new or updated fees at different offices in the county.
The records fee, if implemented, would be waived for the first copy provided to a person’s next of kin.
That fee is the only one under consideration that applies to public records, and The Mountain Press asked the Comptroller’s Office whether it conflicted with the Tennessee Public Records Act.
The commission has authority to implement public records fees; several offices in Sevier County have records fees, but most charge by the page.
“Absent some other statutory authority for the county to impose charges for records held by the medical examiner, the medical examiner should charge its actual costs to produce copies of public records or impose charges for copies in accordance with our Schedule of Reasonable Charges,” said Lee Pope, open records counsel for the state.
That schedule includes fees per page, which can be up to $.50 per page for black and white copies of $1 per page for color copies, or more based on expenses.
“The governmental entity must establish a schedule of charges documenting ‘actual cost’ and state the calculation and reasoning for its charges in a properly adopted policy,” according to the schedule.
They can charge for electronic records if they are providing flash drives or similar electronic storage devices, but otherwise they can charge per page for digital copies “only when paper copies that did not already exist are required to be produced in responding to the request.”
Government officials can charge for labor, based on the time reasonably necessary to produce requested records, including the time spent locating, retrieving, reviewing, redacting, and reproducing records.
The charge for labor is figured based on the hourly wage of the employees doing that work.
County officials indicated Friday that they asked the Office of Open Records to consider their proposal based on that work, and based on the efforts of the medical examiner’s office in completing the documents.
‘We incur a great cost to do this,” Assistant Mayor Perrin Anderson said. “This isn’t like a courts docket. It’s more involved than that.”
That appeared to mean the question would come down to whether the county can charge for documents based on the work done by records custodians, or on other work done at the office.
County officials said they hoped to have an answer to that question before commission meets at 6 p.m. Monday at the Sevier County Courthouse.
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