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2012-08-16

User fee funds historic preservation

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Anyone filing court documents with the district and county clerks will also contribute to the preservation of Bandera County history.
During a meeting on Thursday, August 9, county commissioners approved the continuance of a $5 fee to preserve and restore historic court documents through fiscal year 2012-2013.
The fee is included in the cost of any lawsuit, including appeals or cross-actions, counterclaims, intervention, contempt action, motion for a new trial or third party petition in the district court. The fee is also applicable to filings such as deeds, births and marriages in the county clerk's office.
The mandatory $5 will be funneled into a district court records technology fund set up by County Treasurer Billie Reeves within the county's general fund. The fees can only be used for archival purposes, which includes the purchase of necessary hard and software. As District Clerk Tammy Kneuper explained, "The five dollars becomes part of the filing fee and it's strictly a user fee." She continued, "The 81st Legislature authorized the collection of the archival fund for the restoration of old records. Records from 1961 and back have been mandated for archival preservation."
As Kneuper explained, "When the legislature mandated the preservation of historical records, only 91 counties were doing it." She was one of the first district clerks across the state to have already initiated the process of restoring and archiving old court records. "We now have 75 percent of our old court records completed," she said.
However, other local historical records remain languishing in storage pods. "If we archive five books a year, we could go on for 25 years," Kneuper said.
Bandera County's original court records are not only preserved in book form, which is then kept in a fireproof vault, but the records are also microfilmed and digitalized for easy access.
"People who file new court cases are essentially paying for someone who filed 100 years ago," County Judge Richard Evans noted. "It's important to do this. Many counties have done nothing to preserve their historical records."
According to Kneuper, her office handles 50 court filings per month, in addition to individual filings.
Each bound book of historic records costs approximately $1,200. "The oldest record I've had restored is case #513, which was recorded in 1896," she said.
"That was probably one of your cases," Judge Richard Evans quipped to Tom Bregel, Bandera County resident and perennial court watcher.
"I was just a teenager then," Bregel rejoined.
County Clerk Candy Wheeler said her office has no funds for record restoration at this time. "We have archive and records management funds, but because of our cashiering system, the fees collected are used for our official public records line item," she said.
Apparently it's quite costly to file land and deed records, so rather than have the fees paid by taxpayers throughout the county, commissioners decided to make it a user-based system. "Those fees are taken out of the archives management," Wheeler said. "We've collected $27,000 but spend $35,000."
To a query from Andy Wilkerson, about the length of the mandatory $5 fee, Kneuper said it would be collected indefinitely. "My plan is for the continuous archival of filings to keep the records up-to-date and permanent," she said.
"The legislature removed the sunset date of the fee, so we can continue to collect the fee and restore the archives forever," Wheeler explained. "The removal of the fee would have to be a legislative decision."

Pictured: Photo by Judith Pannebaker
County Clerk Candy Wheeler and District Clerk Tammy Kneuper display original and bound copies of historic court records of Bandera County. The archival effort is funded by a $5 user fee attached to all court filings.