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Fee may be imposed to file documents in Washington County

In an effort to create an official archive for historic documents, Washington County officials could vote to start charging a fee for most paperwork filed within county offices.
The idea to levy a $5 fee to file documents such as marriage licenses and building permits came at a meeting last week where Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge spoke with about two dozen advocates for creating an official county archive.
An archives’ building was supposed to be built in conjunction with the construction of the George P. Jaynes Justice Center, which was completed late last year. However, those plans were nixed after additional costs arose for the justice center itself and the Washington County Commission voted to use the money intended for the archive to make up for the unexpected expenses at the justice center.
Officials subsequently put the archive project on the backburner, but after an August flood at the Downtown Centre in Johnson City damaged thousands of historic and public documents being stored there, the need for a quality archive storage facility again took center stage.
“We’ve got a public records storage issue in Washington County, and not just historic documents,” Eldridge said. “There is a sense of urgency to deal with this, particularly after our incident a couple months ago at the Downtown Centre.”
Eldridge emphasized the need for what he called a “two-part solution” to the problem, one that includes creating an archive for historic documents as well as a long-term storage and retrieval plan for all public records the county is required to keep.
“One of our goals absolutely has to be providing a way to provide public access to these documents,” he said.
At the meeting, County Attorney John Rambo brought up the fact that the state allows counties to levy up to a $5 document fee in every county office except the Register of Deeds.
“There are 20,000 cases opened each year in all the courts of Washington County,” Rambo said. “The fee has to be designated exclusively for archives. That could be your (money) source.”
Officials could start collecting document filing fees as soon as the county commission approves doing so, which could happen as early as its October meeting, Rambo said.
Rambo noted it is unlikely a new building would be constructed any time soon for the archive, instead suggesting “scattered spaces available within the Jonesborough Courthouse” be used, at least for the time being, to properly and safely store documents.
Eldridge said he ultimately would like to see the archives facility on Main Street in Jonesborough, emphasizing the opportunity to increase the number of people coming to the area through “historic tourism.”
He estimated the need for somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 square feet, at least, to store and display county-owned documents.
“Obviously, we don’t need that much space for what we have today. The amount of records we have today would probably consume about 15,000 square feet,” Eldridge said. “But I don’t want to put in a solution we’re going to have to re-do five years from now.”
The county commission was expected to approve appointments to all of its committees, including the public records committee, at its Monday night meeting. Following that approval, Eldridge said he expects to know more about the next step in creating a county archive.