vanessa-newVanessa Remmers covers Stafford County government and schools for and The Free Lance-Star.

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FOIA fees to be discussed at Tuesday’s board meeting

Stafford County may soon be one of few counties to have a written policy regarding fees for the Freedom of Information Act.

(Here is Tuesday’s complete online agenda.)

State law dictates what localities must provide through public records requests, but it does not outline how much may be charged to do so. Supervisor Gary Snellings said the bylaws committee wanted to clear any misunderstandings. “We were concerned, a lot of folks on some of the boards and commissions we appoint may not be aware totally they are under FOIA, and this will lay it out for them,” Snellings said.

The proposed policy would regulate the maximum amount supervisors, public officials and staff may charge for response time, based on their salaries in the county. For example, a supervisor may not charge more than $9.85 per hour, based on his $20,000 salary. The chairman may charge $10.34 per hour. “We put that in there really for the protection of the folks that are requesting the stuff,” said Snellings, who added he does not charge fees when he responds to open records requests.

Recently, Supervisor Cord Sterling charged $1,240 to fulfill a FOIA request—$155 per hour for eight hours. The Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council stated in a letter that the “rate does not reflect the actual cost to the County to produce the records.”

Sterling said all his emails are now on the county server, instead of being forward to his personal email account, which has been common practice for many supervisors. County staff will handle FOIA requests he receives. (Sterling also said that he believes he receives more requests than other supervisors, likely because he is the chairman of the budget committee.) “When people are issuing broad FOIA requests that require days upon days to sift through documents, that’s something that’s above and beyond what’s reasonable,” said Sterling, adding that he’d have to take vacation days to fulfill the request. “They should be responsible for covering the costs they impose upon society.”

Also on the agenda: 

-At 11 a.m., supervisors will break ground for the expansion of the Brooke Virginia Railway Express commuter lot.

  • 234 more spaces will be added added to the existing 501-space lot.
  • Supervisors broke ground at the Leeland Road VRE commuter lot at the last meeting; 196 spaces will be added to the existing 652 spots.
  • Together, the two projects cost $4.4 million.

-The continued public hearing on the rezoning for the Clift Farm Quarter development has been deferred to June 5.

-Also at Tuesday’s evening meeting, the board will discuss a request from the Stafford Regional Airport for a $1.4 million loan.