County looks at eliminating copy charges

It appears that copy charges for public documents from Washoe County will soon be a thing of the past.

The Washoe County Board of Commissioners took a first look at a resolution authored by Darin Conforti, a senior fiscal analyst with the county, during their Aug. 28 meeting. The resolution would have eliminated the per-copy fee currently charged by some county departments for citizens to receive public documents.

While commissioners were in support of the resolution, they unanimously deferred a vote on it because the resolution did not adequately address the possibility of an individual requesting an excessive amount of public documents. Conforti was asked to revise the resolution and bring it back to the County Commission at a later date, when it is expected to pass unanimously, says county spokesman Bob Harmon.

The copy charge issue came to light following a report by Conforti that said some county departments may be charging more than what is allowed by Nevada law, which states that government entities—unless the law makes specific exceptions—may not charge the public more than the actual cost of producing the documents. While many county departments were charging 15 cents per copy, Conforti’s report said most copies only cost between three and five cents.

Copy charges became an issue in part due to the efforts of Gary Schmidt, the owner of the Reindeer Lodge on the Mount Rose Highway, who noticed the copy charge discrepancy while doing research for a successful lawsuit against the county for denying him access to public records. His case was appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court. The copy charge discrepancy became public following a story in the June 7 issue of the RN&R.

The resolution will cost the county less than $20,000 per year, according to Conforti.

If the resolution passes as expected, it will be interesting to see if other governmental agencies follow suit in lowering or eliminating copy charges, which charge up to 50 cents, in some cases, for copies of public documents.