County property records headed online

Attorneys, title searchers and the general public could soon have more convenient access to Sussex County property records, thanks to a new online system proposed this week by Sussex County Recorder of Deeds John Brady.

Brady, at the July 21 county council meeting, recommended the council approve an ordinance adopting fees for the new service that would make the bulk of the county’s property-related records available via the Internet. He said the system would not only provide more convenient access to those seeking such information but would garner some revenue for the county at a time when focus remains sharp on potential budget gaps.

The system would allow anyone to research documents including deeds, mortgage documents, satisfactions and deed restrictions, as well as tax ditch and tax bill information, all from the comfort of their homes and offices. Subscribers could use the system at a cost of $50 per month, plus 25 cents per printed page, while users who don’t wish to subscribe would be charged $1 per printed page.

The company providing the service would receive a fee of 40 percent of the revenue generated. The rest would go to the county. Brady said he conservatively estimated that revenue at $15,000 per year.

“There would be no charge to search the index and check out their deeds and documents,” Brady emphasized. “If they want to pay to print them out, they can pay the $1-per-page fee.”

Brady noted that his office had negotiated with the company tapped to provide the service, which already provides a similar service in both Kent and New Castle counties.

“I did not want to, based on tight county finances, look for something that would cost the county money,” he said, adding that he had bargained the company down from an initial proposal of a $100-per-month fee. Instead, he said, they came back with a proposal that will mean 60 cents of each dollar generated will go to the county, and the company will handle credit card billing at its own cost.

Brady noted that New Castle County is charging $100 per month for the service, while the $10-per-month fee in Kent County had since been cited as being far too low and, as a result, drastically reducing the number of people who were coming in to the Recorder of Deeds office.

Some reduction in that number is considered a plus, according to Brady, since reducing the number of title searchers in the office helps to reduce the need for more space.

“I believe it’s a win-win for the county,” Brady said of the system.

The online documents service could be available as soon as next month. Brady said his office had already scanned deeds and mortgages dating back to the mid-1990s and were proceeding with the remainder of the scanning process in a reverse chronological order.

Brady said his office is aiming to scan 50 years of mortgages – the agreements’ effective date in the state, and that he expects that sometime in 2010 all of the scanning will be done, while “a substantial amount” will be available when the system gets up and running.

“It will be every document we have downstairs,” he noted, referencing deeds, mortgages, deed restrictions, index books satisfactions, though not usually liens. He said the county would offer a disclaimer to users of the service that the best way to check records would be to go to the Recorder of Deeds office.

Brady also noted that state law now allows that anyone whose personal information appears on the documents that are being put online can have sensitive information, such as Social Security numbers that might appear on the documents, redacted. They just have to file a form with the Recorder of Deeds’ office, at no charge. The law, he said, aims to protect people against identity theft.