Companies May See Ban on Buying, Reselling Land Records
October 26, 2009 -
AUGUSTA -- Maine's Legislative Council has accepted two research bills that would prevent for-profit companies from buying land records from county offices and reselling them for a "significantly different" price, a lawmaker said.
Rep. Patsy Crockett, D-Augusta, said she submitted LR 2138 on behalf of the Maine County Commissioners Association. Rep. Sharon Anglin Treat, D-Hallowell, submitted a similar bill on behalf of the Maine Registers of Deeds Association.
The lawmakers got involved after a ruling was handed down in Hancock County Superior Court that county officials broke the state's Freedom of Access law by not allowing MacImage of Maine LLC, a database company, to obtain land records at a reasonable fee.
John Simpson, owner and manager of MacImage, said in September that he intends to expand his database of land records into a statewide system.
Crockett, former associate manager for the Maine County Commissioners' Association and the wife of Kennebec County Treasurer Robert Crockett, said MacImage's statewide database would reduce county revenue from deeds offices and push the difference onto taxpayers.
"There's the staff time, the storage time, there's a lot that goes into having documents securely stored there. This is to simply make sure there's a level playing field (between counties and for-profit businesses," she said.
Simpson blasted her proposal.
"How is this more level if the counties have access to them for free when I don't? That's not a level playing field," he said.
Beverly Bustin-Hatheway, president of the Maine Registers of Deeds Association, said the group has yet to take a stance on MacImage's proposal.
After being accepted by the Legislative Council on Thursday, the bills were sent to be drafted into legislative documents and referred to a committee.
Counties may allow a person to view electronic records for free but charge for copies obtained at a courthouse. Simpson said the MacImage site would allow customers to view records for free and pay a fee – 75 cents per page – to print copies, eliminating a trip to the courthouse.
In Kennebec County, it costs $1.50 per page for a copy.
The index may be viewed for free, but not the deeds or other records. Simpson said he has contacted Maine's registries of deeds and been rebuffed.
By MEGHAN V. MALLOY, Kennebec Journal October 20, 2009
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