Kuna City Council members unanimously rejected a proposal to charge the public for requests for voluminous copies of public records.
City staff had proposed a fee schedule for copies of public records exceeding 100 pages or staff time more than two hours.
The resolution stemmed from a state law passed during the 2011 legislative session. The new law states that no fee shall be charged for the first two hours of labor in responding to a request for public records, or for copying the first 100 pages of paper records that are requested.
However, part of the reason the law was created was to make sure that public agencies were reimbursed for the costs of huge requests requiring large amounts of labor.
So the new law has two main impacts: it makes copies free for the first 100 pages and first two hours of labor but it also allows agencies to charge for copies that exceed 100 pages or for requests that require more than two hours of labor.
But if an agency charges, the fee cannot exceed the actual cost (paper, toner, etc.) incurred by the agency. For labor fees, “if charged” (an agency doesn’t have to charge anything), the fee must be at the per-hour pay rate of the lowest-paid employee necessary and qualified to process the request.
The city’s proposed fee schedule for public records requests included fees of 15 cents per page over 100 pages, $5 per disc for duplicate recordings, $24 per hour for staff time exceeding two hours $48 per hour for attorney time exceeding two hours, up to $100 per hour for requests (litigation related documents) requiring redaction by city attorney.
The Kuna Melba News wrote a letter seeking justification for several of the fees. During a City Council public hearing on Dec. 6, three residents testified expressing concern about the fees, arguing that public information should be free and that fees should not prove to be a barrier or have a chilling effect on public records requests.
City Council members questioned how city staff came up with the proposed fees and expressed skepticism about charging for hard costs such as overhead and staff time.
Deputy City Clerk Chris Engels said the city this year has received only two requests exceeding 100 pages and one request exceeding two hours.
City Council members agreed to repeal all existing fees, to not institute any new fees and to revisit the issue if it appears there are cases of abuse in the future.