Ballot amendment would help probate office

Published 9:48 pm Tuesday, May 18, 2010

When people step into the voting booth on June 1 for the statewide primaries, they will see a proposed local amendment allowing the Marengo County Probate Office to “alter the costs and charges of court.”

The amendment asks people to vote to allow the probate office to add a charge to the instruments it handles, including wills, marriage licenses and other probate. The probate office will use the additional money to update its equipment.

“I went to the county commission at the first of the year and asked them to pass a resolution to allow me to work with State Rep. A.J. McCampbell in getting these bills passed in the state legislature,” said Marengo County Probate Judge Cindy Neilson.

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The probate office wants to charge an additional $10 fee for each petition that initiates a judicial proceeding in probate court and an additional $5 indexing fee on each real or personal property instrument, such as a deed.

The funds are to be placed into a special fund for improved recording, archiving, Internet technology, preservation and retrieving of records, maintenance, training and services for the Marengo County Probate Office.

The records date to the founding of Marengo County in 1818 and include everything that was filed from that date to today, but there is a big problem.

“Our records are not backed up whatsoever,” Neilson said. “We were very lucky when the courthouse burned (Oct. 14, 1965) that all of the records of the probate office were saved because they were in the vault. We have all of our deed records, all of our marriage records, all of the will records that have ever been recorded since 1818. We just don’t have any back-up for them. They are not on microfilm.”

Neilson estimated that the extra fees would raise $15,000 to $20,000 over one year.

“We’re not talking about a lot of money, but over three or four years, it would be enough to get us a printer for our office,” she said. “Most probate offices across the state of Alabama already have this in place. That’s how they fund keeping their records maintained and keeping up with technology.”