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April 1, 2005

Charges Under the Public Records Law: Impose Only Actual Costs!

Iowa's Public Records Law entitles people to examine and copy open records in the hands of governmental bodies. This imposes costs on governmental bodies ranging from a minor expense of making copies to a more significant expense of assigning office personnel to supervise the process. The law strikes a balance between public access and the burden on government by authorizing governmental bodies to charge the requester for the costs of retrieving, copying and supervising the records. How should a governmental body determine the amount to be charged?

The following principles apply when officials charge for access to open records:

  • Free Examination: The governmental body cannot charge the requester a fee simply for examining an open record. Iowa Code sec. 22.2(1). Charges are limited to the costs of retrieving records, making copies of records, or supervising records.
  • Actual Costs for Copies: The cost imposed for providing a copy of an open record "shall not exceed the cost of providing the service." Iowa Code sec. 22.3. Officials must determine how much the copy really costs excluding ordinary expenses of the office like a computer system's depreciation, copy machine maintenance, overhead, electricity, and insurance.
  • Reasonable Fees for Work: "All expenses of the work" in providing access to records shall be paid by the requester and may include a "reasonable fee" for supervision. Iowa Code sec. 22.3. Expenses and fees may include time spent retrieving, copying and supervising the records. Expenses and fees for office personnel should be based on the hourly wage of the staff providing the service multiplied by the hours actually spent, and must exclude employment benefits like health insurance.

Remember: Government officials must provide open records for examination and copying at actual cost. Officials should not impose charges for access to open records that exceed the actual cost of providing the service. To keep costs down, officials should assign lower-paid staff as appropriate to retrieve, copy or supervise records.

Sunshine advisories are a general resource for government officials and citizens on Iowa's public records and open meetings laws – our "sunshine” laws.  Local officials should obtain legal advice from their counsel, such as the city or county attorney.

The Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB) is an independent board that the Iowa Legislature established specifically to address open meetings and open records-related matters.  The IPIB provides information to the public and governmental entities on "sunshine" issues.

The IPIB, which has jurisdiction and authority to investigate and enforce Iowa's open meetings and open records laws, enables citizens to file a complaint if they believe that someone is violating these laws.

Citizens who have inquiries or complaints about public records or open meetings should contact the Iowa Public Information Board. Iowa Public Information Board.

Wallace Building, Third Floor
502 East 9th Street
Des Moines, IA 50319


Phone: 515-725-1781

Updated December 1, 2014


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