The Waldo County commissioners have approved a new set of fees for the Registry of Deeds, identical to the old set with one notable exception — a new line for “bulk sales.”

The line was added in response to a Freedom of Access Act request from MacImage of Maine dated Sept. 25, 2009, asking for the entire contents of the Registry of Deeds’ digital database. MacImage owner John Simpson has said that he hopes to offer land records for the entire state through a single Web site, where currently county records are isolated and managed by several different vendors.

Simpson was involved in digitizing Hancock County’s registry of deeds — a process that ended in litigation. On Sept. 1, 2009, a Hancock County Superior Court judge ruled in the case MacImage of Maine v. Hancock County that documents in Registry of Deeds offices throughout Maine are public. The case cleared the way for a private vendor to offer access to deeds throughout the state.

Following the ruling, Simpson contacted the remaining 15 counties in Maine. announcing his interest in expanding the services of his Web site to the entire state and asking county officials to work with him. To date, Simpson said, two counties have proposed a copying fee to comply with his request — Piscataquis, offering deeds at 9.5 cents, and Androscoggin at 12 cents per document.

In Waldo County, as in many other counties throughout the state, the request was viewed as a threat to revenue that the county collects for copies of documents housed in its registry of deeds.

The Waldo County registry charges $1 to $2 per page for copies of land documents. Online, Waldo County deeds are available through a third-party service for a subscription rate of $30 per month plus fees for searches and document views, or on a purely pay-per-view arrangement of $3 per document view. Fees add up to around $75,000 per year.

On Tuesday, the county commissioners approved a fee of 2.5 cents per image, and an additional indexing charge of 2 cents per document that they say would be charged by ACS, vendor for the county’s electronic land records.

Upon hearing the numbers, Simpson offered a rhetorical question. “How much do you think it costs to copy an image from one hard drive to another?” he said.

According to Simpson, it would take a programmer no more than six hours at a hypothetical rate of $150 per hour — an estimate he claims to have proposed to the counties — plus the cost of the hard drive on which to store the data, which he priced at between $100 and $300.

Simpson estimated each document would include an average of three images, bringing the per-document total to 9.5 cents — the same rate offered by Piscataquis County — and the grand total for the roughly 250,000 electronic records in the Waldo County registry to more than $23,000. The difference between Simpson’s estimate and the county’s formula can be explained in part by the fact that Simpson views the transaction as a bulk exchange of data, while the county has held to a per-page or per-document charge.

Simpson has maintained that he would give half his proceeds to the county and would invest all of his own profits into digitizing any registry documents not currently available in electronic form, provided the county put up matching funds.

“There’s the possibility of making a much bigger revenue pie and not hurting the county’s revenues at all,” he said, “and providing a much-needed service.”

May 4, County Register of Deeds Deloris Page presented the commissioners with a breakdown of the time, materials and labor behind each paper copy and electronic copy the Registry sells. The exhaustive list, which included the cost of paper, toner, personnel, amortization of infrastructure and outside contracts relating to the registry’s holdings, produced a bottom line cost of $2.15 per paper copy, with the possibility of additional fees for certified copies and mailing or faxing.

Page, however recommended retaining the $1-per-page rate for paper copies, and the commissioners agreed, though several voiced interest in reconsidering the fee schedule at a later date.

Commissioner Donald Berry said the county could be justified in charging for what he called the “fetch effect,” or the amount of time it takes to complete a task. “Not to seek a grab,” he said, “but I know that you’ve got a labor-intensive situation to go get something.”

Page had figured five minutes per page, time that she said could include taking apart the registry record books in order to photocopy them. Berry suggested that the county could charge $2 for the first page and $1 per additional page to cover the initial setup time.

Commissioner William Shorey suggested charging for postage after Page noted that the Registry currently doesn’t charge extra to mail documents.

The commissioners approved the new rates. Berry said the Commission has not heard from Simpson since he met with the commissioners in January.