Metro

Massachusetts reduces cost of copies of public records

Obtaining public records just became a little cheaper in Massachusetts.

Secretary of State William F. Galvin’s office has reduced the price local and state agencies can charge for standard paper copies and printouts to 5 cents per page, according to regulations released this week. Under the old rules, officials could charge 20 cents a page for traditional copies or 50 cents per page for printouts.

The change came after the Globe asked questions about why the Secretary of State’s office permitted agencies to charge as much as 50 cents a page, when commercial copying centers normally charge a fraction of that amount and Galvin himself proposed a ballot initiative last year capping prices for black and white copies at 15 cents a page. Galvin has since abandoned the measure, but both the House and Senate have passed bills reducing the price of copies to 5 cents a page; lawmakers are now trying to reconcile the bills.

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Brian McNiff, a spokesman for Galvin’s office, said “the change was made to be proactive, bringing the regulations in line with the public records legislation now pending.” McNiff said the old rates were set in 1983.

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Andy Dowd, president of the Massachusetts Town Clerks Association, said the new price “better reflects the actual cost of reproducing documents with current technology.”

“I don’t believe this change will have a significant impact on most communities,” Dowd said. He noted communities already often waive fees for easy requests.

But some local officials worried about the change. Sudbury Town Clerk Rosemary Harvell said she thought the old maximum price of 50 cents was too high but the new rate of 5 cents was too low. Harvell estimated that copies cost her office 7.5 cents per page.

“Copies are expensive,” she said. “If you charge less than 10 cents a page, you are putting the burden on taxpayers of the community instead of requestors.”

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The secretary of state’s regulations still permit agencies to charge additional fees for labor to search and redact documents, a provision critics say agencies sometimes abuse.

In addition, some agencies are exempt from the public records law and can set their own fees or deny records altogether.

Todd Wallack can be reached at twallack@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @twallack.