Editorial – Don’t restrict legal ads to the web, Part I
March 23, 2010
Voters in the towns of Kremmling, Grand Lake and Granby will decide on April 6 whether their towns will be permitted to “publish” legal notices on their websites rather than in a newspaper. While these initiatives promise the superficial appeal of saving money, we believe citizens will lose if they pass.
Yes, this newspaper has a financial self-interest in the outcome, though scarcely a huge one. What is really at stake is the extent to which taxpayers will remain informed about town business.
Show us the money
Officials who favor putting these issues on the ballot say it is all about saving money. And, while it is true it would cost the towns less to self-publish on their websites, the savings are paltry compared to the costs of eroding the public’s right to know.
The towns spend less than 1 percent of their budgets on legals. During the past two years, this is how much legal advertising cost them: Grand Lake, $13,879 in 2009, when much of the town’s code book was rewritten, and about $8,900 in 2008; Granby, $5,817 in 2009, and $6,217 2008; Kremmling, $1,565 in 2009, and $3,077 in 2008. Some of that money was paid back by developers and others.
If the sole issue were saving taxpayers money, surely other cost reductions – in legal fees, for instance – would save a great deal more.
Additionally, the legal newspaper of record’s cost to publish the notices often equals or exceeds the costs to the towns, which is set by statute and has not changed since 1993. (By the way, the size and style of the type is established by statute as well.)
Town officials would have you believe they will save 100 percent of those costs, which is not the whole story. Anyone who has a website understands there are staff and maintenance costs that should be factored in to an honest accounting. Plus, there will still be the cost of publishing the title.
Such comparisons are invalid in any event, as publishing legals on a town website and publishing them in their entirety in the newspaper are far from the same thing, which is at the heart of the matter.
When a legal advertisement is published in the Middle Park Times and the Sky-Hi Daily News (for free), those editions reach about 11,000 readers per week. Industry studies indicate that on average 63 percent of those readers will read some of the legals.
That’s almost 7,000 readers per week scanning legal ads. Plus – and this is important – readers can view all legals from all government entities, at the same time of the week year-in and year-out, IN THE SAME PLACE. (We also publish them on skyhidailynews.com at no additional cost.)
If voters allow the towns to publish legals in the newspaper by title only – a nebulous standard at best – the audience will be greatly diminished, particularly in Grand County. Plus, citizens interested in viewing all legals will have to visit multiple websites to find them and will not necessarily know when or if they have been posted to the website.
So, when officials talk about cost savings, let’s be clear: We’re not comparing apples to apples.
Many other reasons compel a “no” vote on these issues. Among them: Only 15 percent of Grand County households have Internet access, and few people visit the town websites; there are no mandates about what must be included in the title of legals, or where or when or how or for how long they must be posted on websites; and if the legals are not being published independently in a general-circulation source, are they in fact being published for general public consumption at all?
Stay tuned: These and other issues will be addressed in Part II of this editorial in the Friday, March 26, edition of the Sky-Hi Daily News.