A&A: How can copy fees vary from agency to agency?

Q: I submitted a bid to be the janitorial service provider for the county court house.  After the bid was over I asked for the bid results, evaluation results and winning bidders proposal. I received a letter back stating that I had to pay $0.50 per page when I normally pay $0.10 per copy from government agencies. Is this correct? Also, why do most agencies just email it to us at no cost and some say they can’t?

A: As I think you are aware, the Public Records Act requires, subject to certain exemptions, that each agency, “upon a request for copies of records . . . shall make the records promptly available to any person upon payment of fees covering direct costs of duplication, or a statutory fee if applicable.” Govt. Code section 6253(b).

Agencies are thus permitted to charge only for the actual costs of duplication, and must calculate the costs based on its actual costs.  Although this amount will likely be similar among agencies here are some variables that may justify differences in per-page copy costs.

The most common of these is the pay rate of the employee performing the copying. One of the actual costs of duplication is the pro-rated cost of the employee performing the copying. A difference in per-page copy charges may legitimately result if one agency employs a much less expensive employee to perform the copying.

In any event, however, the agency must be able to explain how it calculated the actual costs of duplication. It cannot just guess. You may want to ask the agency how it calculated its copying costs.

Holme Roberts & Owen LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation.