LISBON - Joe Csonka believes politics is the reason why Columbiana County commissioners are unwilling to act on a proposal to make 11 years of property records available online.
"I just can't believe it. It's a win-win situation all the way through. I can't see any disadvantage to doing this," he said of the proposal put forth by county Recorder Craig Brown.
Csonka, a Democrat, is running for commissioner this year against incumbent Republican Jim Hoppel. He decided to weigh in on the issue after commissioners indicated they preferred to wait until Brown's replacement takes office in January to hear what the new recorder has to say about the proposal. Brown was defeated in the March 6 primary election.
A company by the name of Lending Processing Services has offered to pay the estimated $34,000 cost of placing county deeds online dating back to 2000, which includes $31,000 to cover the web-hosting and bandwidth fees for the first three years.
LPS is in the business of providing data to the mortgage and loan industry, and being able to access county records online would save the company the expense of sending a worker to the county to do the work.
Commissioners had several concerns, chief being the potential loss of revenue from copying fees, which last year totaled at least $52,000. Csonka said the problem would be remedied by establishing an online paywall of some sorts that would require users to pay a fee for each copy that is downloaded.
Commissioners were also concerned about coming up with the $31,000 needed to cover the web-hosting and bandwidth fees after the initial three years.
Brown has said having the records online would be a convenience to the public and reduce the number of title workers at the courthouse performing deed searches for shale gas leasing companies. It would also reduce wear and tear on county equipment. Csonka agrees on all counts.
"Would you rather be able to look up your title at home or drive down to the courthouse, put a quarter in the parking meter, go through the security screener, and then sit and wait to be taken care of? That's a no-brainer," he said.
Csonka believes the only reason commissioners are balking is because commissioners Hoppel and Mike Halleck are Republicans and Brown is a Democrat. "It's got to be politics," he said.
Hoppel said the only person being political is Csonka. "How can he say it is political when Brown is a lame duck?" he said. "If it's political, check with John because I believe John is opposed to doing it, too."
He was referring to Commissioner John Payne, the lone Democrat on the board. Payne said he is concerned about placing documents online that inadvertently contain private information, such as Social Security numbers. Although Brown said privacy information would be redacted before it goes online, Payne said they only need one document to fall through the cracks for the county to get sued, which happened in another Ohio county.
"That is something I would not be comfortable with ... Why get into a litigious situation when you don't have to," Payne said. "I can see the value in doing this but there is a downside."
Hoppel said the loss of revenue concerns are real, especially given county government facing a potential $1 million budget shortfall this year. Not only that, Brown's proposal failed to include any provision for charging the public to make copies online or any other way to protect the county from losing much-needed revenue, he said.
"He never gave us enough information to support what he wanted to do," Hoppel said of Brown.