The Marion City Council at its Oct. 29 meeting approved a resolution by a 4-1 vote outlining a fee schedule for research services provided by city staff.
City Administrator Doug Kjellin was asked at the council’s Oct. 15 meeting to compare Marion’s rates to at least five cities and what each charge for research and copy fees.
“The majority of work that needs to be done on Freedom of Information Act is usually available on my computer,” Kjellin said, adding that it averages between one to two minutes to complete.
The only time researching documents can become time-consuming, he said, is when someone requests older files—but that has only happened once during his stint as city administrator.
Prior to approving the fee schedule, Kjellin suggested copies at 50 cents per page, instead of $1, and research at $5 per 15-minute increments or $20 an hour.
Kjellin presented research he conducted, including Marion County’s rate for research, along with Hillsboro, Peabody, Herington, Council Grove, Inman, Belleville and Cheney.
– Hillsboro charges $10 per hour with a minimum of $5;
– Peabody’s rate is the actual employee costs with no minimum , plus 15 cents for black-and-white copies and 35 cents for color;
– Marion County’s rate is based on actual employee costs with a 15-minute minimum and 25 cents per photocopy;
– Herington charges actual employee costs with no minimum and 25 cents per copy;
– Council Grove’s costs are $12 per hour for research with no minimum and 50 cents per copy;
– Inman has no fee, no minimum and charges 15 cents for black-and-white copies and 50 cents for color;
– Belleville is $25 per hour with one hour minimum and $1.50 per copy;
– Cheney is $30 per hour for research with a $5 minimum and 25 cents per copy.
Councilor Todd Heitschmidt voted against the ordinance because he said the wages of city office staff need to be figured into the research equation or actual employee costs.
“I don’t think (the fee schedule) goes far enough to cover our costs,” he said. “I think it needs to be at least actual employee costs with a minimum charge.”
Disagreeing with Heitschmidt, Councilor Jerry Dieter said city staff are paid by taxpayer money.
“I think we should provide information they need or they request without charging huge amounts if it doesn’t take very long,” he said. “I don’t see where we are losing any money.”
Kjellin said the majority of people who request documents typically are not concerned about costs.
“If it seems exceptional research is necessary,” he said, “then the fees are just calculated and someone has the right to say they are not paying—but they don’t get the documentation either.”
Kjellin said it is sometimes difficult to determine the cost ahead of time if someone has a list of documents to find.
Following the Oct. 15 meeting, Kjellin was directed to bring back information regarding how equipment can be made available to citizens of Marion before placing those items on Purple Wave, a local, state and national Internet bidding site.
Kjellin said he anticipates having items lined up for Purple Wave and for individual inspection by the council. But city staff are also hoping to get the equipment sold before weather conditions change sharply.
“The concern at our last meeting was regarding Purple Wave and local people being able to bid on those items, too,” he said.
He said one solution would be that when the city opens the bidding on Purple Wave, that he print the result of current bidding the day before bids close.
“If a local individual wants to bid, but doesn’t have an account, we could instruct them on how to get signed in,” he said. “This is a real-time bid offer.”
Kjellin said while he appreciates local individuals having the opportunity to bid, he also has to consider getting fair market value back into the city’s reserves to reinvest in future needs.
Councilor Chris Meierhoff said he thinks it is the council’s responsibility to get as much as it can for items.
“The (Marion) public also has access to it,” he said.
Kjellin said the city recently added a “customer concern form” to its website.
“The form specifically lists different areas to report power outages, which we prefer are called in for immediate results, but also for trash blowing, light issues, signs down,” he said.
When someone fills out the form online and hits “submit,” the form is sent via e-mail to Kjellin, City Clerk Angela Lange, Streets/Zoning/Building Inspector Marty Fredrickson and Electric Supervisor Christian Pedersen.
Kjellin said, forms will be available in the city office for those who do not have Internet service.
The next city council meeting will be Tuesday, Nov. 13, because of the Veterans’ Day holiday on Monday.