Those requesting records from the village of Islamorada didn’t have to pay for the time spent by staff until the first hour hit. Recent action by council, however, has decreased the amount of time it’s free to record seekers to 30 minutes.
Discussion over the matter was first heard during a Nov. 19 meeting of council, when Vice Mayor Pete Bacheler asked Village Attorney Roget Bryan if there was a way to limit public records requests due to the time staff spent to fulfill them. Village Clerk Kelly Toth told the council that since she’s held the position, staff’s been generous with their time by not charging the public for the first hour of staff time spent to fulfill records requests.
Florida statute provides rights to records access of state and local governments. When requested, staff must not only locate and gather records requested, but they also must comb through the info and redact confidential information, such as financial or personal information.
Over the past year, Toth said the village clerk’s office has seen an uptick in records requests such as building permits for large commercial properties, as well as email searches for dates that span several years and yield thousands of records. Toth said Florida statute addresses voluminous records requests where there’s extensive use of technology and clerical time through a special service charge. But statute doesn’t identify an hourly rate.
After reviewing other municipalities’ service charges and the time they give for free, the council elected to decrease the amount of time a requester has free to 30 minutes. Toth said the hourly rate for a records request is $26.44 an hour.
“Staff believes the budget impact is favorable as revenue generated from extensive records requests offsets some labor costs associated with fulfilling the request,” she said. “It doesn’t cover it. It just offsets it a little.
“We have found that when we advise people of the fee to produce a request, they change their request to only the documents they actually needed,” she continued.
Toth alluded to a recent example of a records request for the building file containing all the permits to a specific piece of property. When advised of the fee, the requester acknowledged that only house plans were needed.
“Retrieving the house plans will probably take about 5 to 10 minutes versus pulling all the files for that property on OnBase and CityView and then going through all the pages and reviewing them for info that needs to be redacted,” she said. “Staff’s recommendation is to change the process to begin charging after 30 minutes of staff time. If the requester breaks up their request into smaller ones to avoid paying a pay fee, we aggregate them and charge it as though it were one request.”
While council agreed to the recommendation, Councilman Mark Gregg said he’d like to see a procedure where someone who might not have the means to pay could apply for a waiver. Gregg said the village manager could consider and grant the requisition based on the person’s situation.
“I feel an obligation to someone who might not have the money and wants the information,” he said. “I think we can trust the manager to make the right call.”
In Key West, records request charges are $16.98 per hour after 30 minutes. Marathon charges $14 per hour after 15 minutes for a standard request. Monroe County charges after 30 minutes using a compounded hourly rate of the person fulfilling the request, and the lowest hourly rate charged is $31 per hour.