New fee to fund Victoria County archive plan

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

Aug. 26, 2013 at 3:26 a.m.

Sweethearts, ranchers and Realtors will see an increase Jan. 1 in fees for filing marriage licenses, cattle brands and real estate documents in Victoria County.

However, one county commissioner said he doesn't want to strap young couples and widows with financing a countywide archive preservation program, and another said the fee gives him heartburn.

The commissioners court voted 3-2 Monday to add $5 to the filing fees for the preservation and restoration of historic documents - which also include deed records, deeds of trust, assumed name records, subdivision maps, official records and probate records along with cattle brands and marriage licenses.

County Clerk Robert Cortez presented the archive plan with the minimum fee allowed by state law. This year, legislators gave counties the authority to increase archive fees to as much as $10 per document.

They have "recognized that this is an extensive process that could last years into the future to physically restore our archived records, which are obviously of critical importance to this county, the state and our country," Cortez said.

The plan includes records from 1950 back to the early 1800s.

Commissioner Kevin Janak voted against the plan, saying he wanted the county clerk to find another way to fund it.

"I just don't want to put that extra fee on any young couple that wants to get a marriage license or a farmer or rancher who comes in for a brand or someone who loses a spouse and comes to get a deed of trust," Janak said.

County Judge Don Pozzi and commissioners Gary Burns and Danny Garcia supported the plan.

"It's very important to me that those records be preserved," Pozzi said. "I think the $5 fee is relatively insignificant for the return that you're getting on your investment."

In 2012, the county clerk's office filed about 15,600 documents. Cortez expects the $5 fee to bring in roughly $78,000 the first year.

Even so, restoring the archives costs about $3,000 per book. For the 300 books in Cortez's keeping, this could be close to a million-dollar undertaking.

While the plan includes digitization, Cortez said the main focus is on preserving and restoring the tangible archives.

Earlier this summer, Cortez implemented a new system to accept electronic filings of real estate documents.

The service also provides Internet public access and a feature for automated redaction.

The documents accepted through electronic filing are real estate purchases, including deeds, deeds of trust, mortgage documents and other documents commonly associated with closing transactions.

As for the archive plan, Burns said the time element needs to be considered.

"The sooner we can do this, the better job we'll do," he said.

Commissioner Clint Ives voted with Janak against the plan.

"Not to discount the historical value of the records, but we need to look at other options," Ives said. "I'm not in favor of the fee - fees, in themselves, give me heartburn."

Garcia, who supported the plan, wanted to keep the options open - if a grant or outside funding becomes available, the fee could go away.

"I believe it's very important to preserve documents, to track the history of our families and Victoria County," he said.



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