Aroostook County Commissioners drop online fee to view land transactions

Posted Nov. 14, 2012, at 4:27 p.m.

CARIBOU, Maine — The Aroostook County Commissioners have unanimously agreed to eliminate the online fee charged by the Registry of Deeds to view land records.

“When we first unveiled electronic access to land records, we had free viewing of documents,” said County Administrator Douglas F. Beaulieu. “We got a complaint [about the possibility of identity theft], so we changed the policy to disallow free viewing, unless you obtained a subscription. With a subscription, you had to provide your name, name of the company, address, etc., so it at least provided us with a database to investigate if identity theft occurs. It was not perfect, but better than nothing.”

According to Louise Caron, registrar of deeds for northern Aroostook, members of the public had begun complaining about the lack of free online access to land records, and pointing out that the Aroostook County Commissioners’ office was the only office charging a fee for online viewing of public records.

“If we don’t do free [access], we get so much flak,” Caron said. “We’re the only one. Everybody [else] is free.”

Beaulieu explained that concerns about liability issues with regard to potential identity theft were what led to the decision to eliminate free online viewing. More recently, however, those concerns have been addressed, prompting the commissioners to re-evaluate the situation and to reconsider allowing free viewing access.

“We now redact certain personal information,” Beaulieu said. “However, even if it isn’t redacted, the law says these records are open to the public, so we really should allow unfettered access of the records. The county does not put the data in these land records; they are provided to us by lawyers and financial institutions so they can be recorded. We are just custodians of the records.”

The commissioner also approved the hiring of three part-time corrections officers, recommended by Sheriff James P. Madore.

“We always have somewhat of a shortage of part-time corrections officers, but more so now we need some qualified transporting officers as well, and we use some of the corrections people for that,” said Madore. “So, during our recent process, three people rose to the list: Andrew Tomah and Joseph Tompkins of Houlton and Roger Stairs of Littleton.”

Other motions passed at Wednesday’s meeting include approval of the Aroostook County Action Program Board of Directors and the nomination of County Commissioner Paul J. Underwood to represent Aroostook County on the Maine Land Use Planning Commission.

As part of the County Administrator’s Report, Beaulieu discussed improvements made to the Aroostook County government website which led to an A+ transparency grade from the Sunshine Review, which describes itself as a non-profit organization dedicated to state and local government transparency. The organization’s evaluation of Maine county websites can be found on sunshinereview.org.

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