Joshua Dillen
The Baker City Herald

A state representative from Portland wants to raise some document recording fees collected by county clerks from $20 to $75.

The fee applies to real estate document recordings such as deeds, easements, mortgages, mining location documents and liens.

Baker County Clerk Cindy Carpenter said she’s concerned about how the proposal by Democratic Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer would affect local residents.

As an example, the current cost to record a property deed, easement or mortgage in Baker County is $46, including the $20 state fee listed as the “Housing Alliance” fee.

Keny-Guyer’s proposed bill, which she plans to introduce for the Legislative session that starts Feb. 5, would boost the cost to $101.

“We’re going to go from a recording fee of $46, which is already a hardship to some people, and now we’re going to go to $101,” Carpenter said.

Visit http://www.bakercounty.org/clerks/fee_schedule.html to see a list of fees that would be affected.

Keny-Guyer, who chairs the House Committee on Human Services and Housing, said the bill is necessary to raise money that helps Oregonians find affordable housing.

“We have a huge housing crisis,” Keny-Guyer said.

The Housing Alliance fee was first charged in 2009, and was $15. The amount was increased to $20 in 2014.

The money goes to a state agency, Oregon Housing and Community Service, and by law must be spent in three different areas:

• 76 percent to the state’s General Housing Account Program, which develops and preserves safe, stable and affordable housing by paying up to the entire cost of low-income housing projects

•14 percent to the state Home Ownership Assistance Program and State Homeless Assistance Program, which provides education and counseling for first-time homebuyers, home repair and modifications for veterans as well as down payment assistance

• 10 percent to the state Emergency Housing Account which funds emergency rental assistance programs including rental assistance for the homeless

In addition to those requirements, at least 25 percent of the total money collected must help veterans.

Keny-Guyer said she is proposing the fee hike to make up for reductions in federal funding over the past decades, as well as the uncertainty about whether the state can use its general fund to offset the federal cutbacks.

“The state for a long time did not really pick up the difference,” Keny-Guyer said. “This problem has really fallen in the laps of cities and counties who are really struggling with it.”

She said that while Portland voters approved a $258 million bond last year to fund affordable housing, rural cities and counties don’t have those resources.

“Yet this housing crunch, because of decades of lack of investment in housing at a state and federal level, (rural cities and counties) are really struggling,” Keny-Guyer said.

She said the Legislature had begun addressing the issue over the last several years by spending more general fund dollars, increasing the low income housing tax credit and passing housing policy legislation that makes it more efficient to build low income housing projects.

Keny-Guyer said the recording fee assessment is one of the few reliable and dedicated funding sources for housing programs. It raises about $15 million statewide per year according to the state’s budget. The proposed increase would boost the yearly revenue to about $61 million.

Keny-Guyer said some states charge both a recording fee and a real estate transfer tax to raise money for affordable housing. But Oregon voters in 2012 banned real estate transfer taxes.

She compares Oregon’s recording fee to the progressive nature of federal income taxes.

“The thinking being that people who are already property owners are in the fortunate position of having something and so having a little bit of money coming from that population in order to help people who don’t have anything makes sense,” Keny-Guyer said. “Just like in the same way we tax upper-income people more in order to give it to lower income people.”

Carpenter said the proposed fee increase would affect real estate recordings that don’t involve a property sale. Those include second mortgages, filing a death certificate to remove a deceased spouse from a title deed, or transferring ownership to heirs.

“It just adds up and adds up and none of this is to purchase a house,” Carpenter said. “It’s affecting a lot of people (that aren’t buying homes).”

Carpenter considers the proposed fee increase excessive, and she believes it puts an unnecessary burden on property owners.

Carpenter said real estate documents that don’t involve the sale of a property make up about half of the recordings her offices processes.

For the last quarter of 2017, the clerk’s office processed a total of 1,173 documents, most of which — 1,101 — were subject to the recording fee. Of those, 576 were deeds and mortgages for house purchases and 525 were documents not related to property sales. The other 72 documents were not subject to the recording fee.

Carpenter said the Oregon Association of County Clerks opposes raising the recording fee.

See more in the Jan. 12, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.

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