September 27, 1996
Ms. Bette Smith
7 Courtney Court
Palm Coast, FL 32137
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the information presented in your correspondence.
Dear Ms. Lathan:
Your letter addressed to Governor Pataki and later transmitted to the State Education Department has been forwarded to the Committee on Open Government. The Committee, a unit of the Department of State, is authorized to provide advice concerning the Freedom of Information Law.
You have complained that the Town of Vienna has been uncooperative with respect to requests for old vital records and that the fees sought to be assessed by the Town are excessive.
In this regard, although the Freedom of Information Law pertains generally to access to government records and the fees that may be charged for copies of records, the provisions of the Public Health Law deal specifically with birth and death records and fees for services rendered concerning searches for and copies of those records. Specifically, subdivision (3) of §4174 refers to fees for records sought for genealogical or research purposes that may be imposed by "any person authorized" by the State Commissioner of Health, i.e., municipal clerks. That provision states that:
"For any search of the files and records conducted for authorized genealogical or research purposes, the commissioner or any person authorized by him shall be entitled to, and the applicant shall pay, a fee of ten dollars for each hour or fractional part of an hour of time for search, together with a fee of one dollar for each uncertified copy or abstract of such records requested by the applicant or for a certification that a search discloses no record."
I hope that the foregoing serves to clarify the matter and that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Town Clerk