Increased paperwork gives county a bonus

Tuesday, September 16, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:03 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Homeowners refinancing to cash in on low interest rates this summer unwittingly have bailed Boone County out of a sluggish year in sales tax and investment income, all thanks to fees collected by the Recorder of Deeds’ office.

Think of it as a bonus, County Auditor June Pitchford said. The income, expected to total nearly $1 million, is almost twice what the county expected from Recorder Bettie Johnson’s office when the fiscal year began in January.

The Boone County Commission will vote later this year on how to spend the money, Pitchford said, and the surprise revenue surfaced at a good time — a slumping economy has slowed sales tax income growth, and county investments are still reeling from erratic market shifts.

How they do it is simple: When someone wants to buy or refinance a home, they file documents with lenders for approval. After processing, lenders send the documents to recorders who process them for a fee – $24 for the first page and $3 for each subsequent page . Recorders then return the documents to lenders or homeowners.

Since July 2002, plummeting interest rates combined with longer, more complicated deeds have pushed the recorder’s office through a marathon of record-breaking months that peaked this summer.

“Recorders’ offices traditionally take in a surplus,” Johnson said. “But nothing like what we took in the last couple of years.”

Daily processing has skyrocketed from an average of 165 applications last year to 247 so far this year — the highest jump in at least 10 years and nearly double the average from a decade ago.

Johnson said her staff often processed 3,000 pages every day — a knee-high stack weighing more than a speed boat anchor.

Slowly rising interest rates throughout late summer has lightened that workload slightly, although Johnson said rates could drop again.

“We get to breathe,” she said. “We’re just thankful for a break.”

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