A new state law authorizing counties to increase mortgage recording fees could generate substantial additional revenue if approved locally, according to area officials.
Gov. David Paterson signed the measure into law July 7 after it passed the state Assembly and Senate.
It allows counties to increase the flat fee for recording mortgage and deed documents from $5 to $20 and increase per-page fees from $3 to $5. It also adds a $5 cover page fee for all documents. Each county legislature can now choose whether to consider the matter or apply the increases. It has been at least 19 years since the last increase in fees.
The fees that county clerks collect to record mortgage documents are separate from state and county mortgage recording taxes, which vary by county and are based on the home’s value.
Albany County Clerk Tom Clingan said he would raise about $1.2 million more per year if the fees were increased to the maximum allowed under the new law.
“We do provide a very valuable service in return for that cost and the charge for that has not changed in a long time,” Clingan said. “Like a lot of the things we do here, we don’t get to vote on it, we just get to do it.”
Files recorded with the county clerk are copied and stored on various media and then returned to the document’s owner, Clingan said.
The Albany County clerk recorded 44,615 documents last year.
An average mortgage and deed document is about 10 to 15 pages, according to Clingan, but some mortgage documents can be much longer.
Currently, recording a 10-page document would carry a $5 flat fee and a $3 per page fee for a total of $35. Some counties also have their own cover page fee. Under the new law, counties could charge $75 for the same 10-page document if local legislators choose to impose the increases.
Buyers pay for the recording fee as part of the mortgage closing process.
“Any increase in cost to buyers, in my opinion, will be a burden,” said Virginia Mackey, a Gloversville-based real estate agent. “I’m against increasing any more closing costs.”
Schenectady County Clerk John Woodward said an increase there would generate between $500,000 and $700,000 more money for the county.
According to Schenectady County officials, no measure is currently under consideration to apply the increase.
Saratoga County Administrator David Wickerham said Thursday that the county is still in the process of estimating potential additional revenues. He expected to present those estimates to county supervisors within a few weeks.
Supervisor Shawn Connelly, R-Stillwater, said he wants to research the law further before making a final decision but he is initially against an increase.
Connelly is a mortgage broker but said his business would likely not be affected by any potential increases since buyers pay the recording fee.
“The initial $5, and even a couple of dollars per page, is more than enough to cover the fees that would be involved in doing it,” he said. “We’re not a poor county.”
Fulton County officials estimated an additional $150,000 in revenue if the fees there were increased.
“Fulton County may consider taking advantage of the legislation that’s been passed in Albany for additional revenue,” said Supervisor Michael F. Gendron, R-Gloversville. “We have a very difficult budget year ahead.”
Gendron, who also chairs the county’s Finance Committee, called a possible increase “one of the many potential sources of revenue” and said county officials are very early in the budget process.