Historical Society limits access to commercial title searchers
BY STACI WILSON
Commercial title searchers are now working under some new restrictions which went into effect July 1 by the Susquehanna County Historical Society and Free Library Association Board of Trustees.
The searchers, who largely research property histories for attorneys and natural gas companies, may now only use the taxpayer funded facility two afternoons each week.
A five-point memorandum dated June 5 went out to commercial title researchers, supervisors and management outlining reasons behind the board’s move to change its policy for the researchers.
Researchers typically pay an annual membership fee of $20 which enables them to access Historical Society documents and records. A $5 per day/per researcher fee is assessed to non-members.
According to the June 5 memo, commercial researchers have created a greater need for additional staff time above the normal personal genealogy and local history research and other staff responsibilities.
Attached to the memo was commercial research data for January through May 2012.
In the five month time period, the Historical Society was open 87 days and commercial title researchers accessed information in 255 visits, averaging just less than 3 title search visits per open day.
According to the attached data, staff time required for a research visit ranges from 15 minutes to one hour.
The memo also states that fewer staff hours will be available in the second half of 2012. It reads: “The donation made by board members to provide extra help during the first six months of this year has been used up and the gas companies have offered no additional financial aid.”
Point three of the memo states that visiting family and local history researchers will require more assistance from historical society staff during the summer months.
The memo also notes that the historical society’s microfilm reader-printers are breaking down from heavy use and the group has no means to repair or replace them.
The historical society’s commercial account fee structure was also noted in the letter.
It reads: “Because of varied sizes of gas-related companies, we are at a loss as to how to charge a large company, like Cabot, or a small title company fairly for a commercial account.”
The memo notes that hourly rates have been discussed but the board realized that program would require a person to handle accounting and billing issues and “we don’t have the luxury of an extra person.”
The county commissioners appoint two people to sit on the association’s board of directors, a requirement of the association’s bylaws.
County taxpayers are assessed an annual .033 library tax to help fund the institution.
But, according to commissioner appointee and association president, Toby Anderson said those two appointees are not liaisons.
“They are not representatives of the commissioners as such,”Andersonsaid.
The board president said the changes of access to the historical society were required by the fact that there is not enough staff or equipment to support the demands on the association.
“It’s a question of money,”Andersonsaid. “It was a business decision.”
He also said he did not know if the commercial searchers paid a membership fee.
WPX spokesperson Susan Oliver said the company did pay for an annual membership. She also said the company had scheduled a meeting with the association board to discuss options.