NorthIowaToday.com recently uncovered a costly expense to taxpayers: Laws requiring the printing of City public notices in print newspapers. Those days could be numbered if lawmakers continue to work for change.|In December, NorthIowaToday.com told our readers that Mason City taxpayers carry a heavy burden due to state laws that require that City business, like public notices of meetings, be printed in a newspaper. NorthIowaToday.com has learned that some local and state lawmakers are interested in changing those laws to eliminate these costs.
According to figures obtained from the Mason City Finance Department, the City has paid the Globe Gazette, Mason City’s largest newspaper, over $30,000 per year (on average) since 2005 to print City business.
NorthIowaToday.com shared this information with the City Council, Mayor, State Senator Amanda Ragan and State Representative Sharon Steckman.
City Councilman Jeff Marsters showed interest in pursuing a remedy for these laws that place these costs on taxpayers, saying ” I am in total support of changing the law and in fact the law is now outdated and really does no more than force financial support by taxpayers to a for profit business.” Marsters even went so far as to contact State Senator Amanda Ragan, and asked for “Just a general request for changes. This newspaper requirement is a huge cost and (in my opinion) way outdated. Please consider change to allow web pages, cable government channel and public postings to be acceptable replacement.”
Ragan told Martsers that some state legislators are already working to “eliminate the need for state and local government entities to publish notices, minutes and other information in newspapers.”
Ragan said the lawmakers working for this change instead advocated for cheaper alternatives to print newspapers, such as “post(ing) them on the internet, in public buildings, etc.”
Lobbyists killed the proposal, Ragan said. “This proposal was dropped by the bill’s sponsors in the face of opposition, mostly from the Iowa Newspaper Association (and its local members).”
Sharon Steckman told NorthIowaToday.com that “You bring up some very interesting facts and figures. We have a considerable population in this city that does not have access to the web. I realize this is quickly changing… as I knock doors in this town I come across many who rely on the Globe Gazette print for their news.”
Martsers also had City Attorney Tom Meyer look at the state laws, telling him “I would request us get an Attorney Generals Opinion on dropping the local newspaper for official notification. We have the City Web page, MediaCom Government cable channel, can post at City Hall and can post at the Mason City library. Most likely to reach more of the public at an extremely minimal cost with huge savings to the taxpayers.”
As local bugdets continue to tighten every year, cost-cutting measures like eliminating the requirement to print City business in newspapers may take hold if lawmakers face enough pressure from their constituents and do not wilt in the face of pressure from lobbyists.
NorthIowaToday.com will continue to follow this developing issue.