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Schuylkill County News

Another Embarrassing Loss for Schuylkill County Before State Open Records Office

The Courthouse keeps posting Ls with the state’s Office of Open Records.

Schuylkill County government has lost another Right to Know Law appeal and must turn over tax assessment records, by order of the state.

On Wednesday, the state’s Office of Open Records released its Final Determination on the matter of Susan Noto v. Schuylkill County. Noto requested an electronic copy of the 2023 Tax and Assessment files for all parcels in Schuylkill County.

The County initially denied that specific request, claiming it would have to create a record that doesn’t exist or reformat records it has. That excuse didn’t fly with the Office of Open Records and the County must now turn over those records to Noto.

What’s really galling in this case is that the County tried claiming these records didn’t exist but previously attempted to charge Noto more than $6,000 for similar older records in the past.

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This loss before the Office of Open Records comes just a few weeks after the state called Schuylkill County government’s transparency “concerning”.

Schuylkill County Posts Another Right to Know “L”

Noto didn’t believe the County’s reason for denying her request and appealed to the state, which is part of the Right to Know Law process.

In filing her appeal, OOR notes, she included screenshots of the County’s website and emails she sent as part of a previous, similar request, which the state believes proved that Schuylkill County does, indeed, have this information available.

Another reason OOR ruled against Schuylkill County is because it is actually required by law to maintain the records Noto is requesting.

The Smoking Gun

Probably the key piece of evidence Noto submitted to the state that these records do exist is actual records she’s received in the past. OOR notes in its Final Determination that Noto proved she asked for previous years’ tax assessment records and received them. The County even attempted to charge her about $6,000 for this information.

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“Credible evidence was submitted by the Requester that the County does maintain its tax assessment data electronically and has for years. The Requester stated that she has requested and received this specific data set for prior years electronically from the County subject to the County’s fee of approximately $6,000 for this data,” OOR Appeals Officer Catherine Hecker writes.

When the County submitted to the state its reasoning for denying the request initially, it failed to address any of the evidence Noto submitted to the state. All the County did, OOR says, was reiterate its stance that it would have to create a separate record to give Noto what she wanted.

OOR says it tried to get clarification from Schuylkill County government but never heard back in time. So, OOR determined that the County failed to prove the records don’t exist, as requested.

About Those Fees, Though …

Regarding the fees for Noto’s current request, OOR did not rule on that because the County hasn’t yet put a price tag on the records she’s requesting.

“While the Requester presented credible evidence that the County previously attempted to charge a fee of $6332.58 for this data in response to a prior RTKL request submitted to the County, there is no evidence of record that the County has attempted to charge a fee for the records responsive to this Request,” Hecker writes. As a result, any analysis in this appeal as to whether the County is permitted to charge a fee to duplicate and provide the requested records or the reasonableness of fees for the responsive records would be speculative.”

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Schuylkill County government must now make a “good faith search” and provide the records Noto is requesting within 30 days. Any fees the County wants to charge Noto must be “reasonable,” the state says.

Either party in this case has the right to appeal OOR’s decision to the Schuylkill County Court of Common Pleas within 30 days.

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  1. PTFloridian

    December 14, 2023 at 3:50 pm

    Our county reps and officials, over and over and over, prove that they are fumbling, bumbling and stumbling fools….sad. why hide things, keep secrets and go out of your way to deceive or lie…?

  2. Val

    December 15, 2023 at 9:41 am

    Here is a tip for those who are new at requesting RTK docs from Schuylkill County: count your pages IMMEDIATELY. Because if you get too excited receiving the docs from them and count the pages later you might find out that many of them are actually missing. If you complain to them about being overcharged, a sneaky rat aka Solicitor will tell you oops.. it’s too late now, you had a right to appeal but you didn’t. Check out everything ASAP. Good luck!

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