Register of Deeds: Mortgage fee changes force office to discontinue passport service

06/04/2014 4:20 PM

06/04/2014 4:22 PM

The Sedgwick County Register of Deeds office will be dropping its passport service and needs additional staff to implement mortgage registration fee changes mandated by a new state law, the head of the office said Wednesday.

Register of Deeds Bill Meek told county commissioners that he will need at least one and possibly two people to deal with changes mandated by House Bill 2643, a law passed at the end of the annual legislative session this year.

Meek said the new fee structure will be confusing to individuals and institutions that file mortgages with the county, especially out-of-state finance companies.

“With what’s going on, we’re going to be absolutely swamped with rejected documents,” Meek said.

Each time a document is submitted with incorrect payment, it has to be returned to the filer and resubmitted, costing his staff time, Meek said.

In addition, Meek said his office will need to annually reprogram its computers and retrain its staff to accommodate fees that will change every year through 2019.

With that increased workload, Meek said he can no longer afford to have his office staff process passport applications.

“We’ll need to perform our statutory duties as best we can,” he said.

Meek’s office isn’t required by law to handle passports, but it did that as an additional public service. The office has processed 617 passport applications so far this year and processed 978 in 2013.

Passport services are available at several post offices in the county.

Meek blamed his extra workload and projected increase in staff cost on HB 2643, a new law that reforms mortgage filing fees.

Since the early 1900s, the fee for filing a mortgage has been based on the amount of money borrowed in the mortgage, currently 26 cents per $100 borrowed.

The state’s bank and real estate associations asked the Legislature to repeal the fee.

They argued that the fee was unfair since it was based on the amount of the mortgage and not the actual cost of processing the documents.

The new law phases out the standard registration fee in steps over a five-year period, while raising other mortgage-related charges – most notably the charge per page for recording documents – to partially offset the revenue loss for counties.

Sedgwick County has brought in about $6 million to $8 million a year from the fee.

Researchers at the Legislature project that the county’s income will fall about $2 million a year by 2019.

Commissioners said they were disappointed that the passport service will be going away.

“That’s been a nifty service and I think very much appreciated,” Commissioner Karl Peterjohn said.

Commissioners did not immediately act on Meek’s request for additional personnel, deferring that to the regular budget process.

The commissioners said they expect to begin budget hearings and deliberations within the next few weeks and plan to have an answer for Meek by August.

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