Out-of-state companies seek data on Clarion County taxes

A company from New Jersey is apparently profiting from Clarion County tax information – data the company is accessing through open-record laws.

Clarion County Treasurer Tom McConnell said each month he receives a Right to Know request form asking for reports from tax collectors and how much they collected.

The requests first came to his office in May 2017 from Signature Information Solutions, of Trenton, New Jersey. The county has since received requests from other companies as well, according to McConnell.

Although the Treasurer’s Office only receives one or two requests every month, he said each one takes a lot of time to grant.

McConnell said about an hour is involved just preparing all the information, but a lot more is involved in the process as information requested might be on one sheet stapled in the middle of a large packet.

On top of time spent, there is also the cost of printing and wear and tear on the printers.

McConnell said the last report he put together was 547 pages long.

“It’s a long process, undoing each paper from the stapled files,” McConnell said.

But the cost isn’t completely lost as the company is also responsible for having to pay for copies and shipping. McConnell said the company owes between $30 and $100 per request form.

McConnell said he has no issue fulfilling Right to Know requests and is glad to give people information they need. However, McConnell said he doesn’t like out-of-state companies requesting government information from which they can profit.

Clarion County Commissioner Wayne Brosius expressed similar sentiment about what was being done with the information.

“I’m not against it and we fulfill them just as we do any other request,” Brosius said, “but I’m not in favor of a company abusing what was meant for citizens to obtain information,” Brosius said.

He said the 2008 law was intended for the public’s right to access and obtain copies of public records held by government agencies. An example he used is if the county were to purchase a truck, someone could request information as to how much the truck cost and where it was purchased.

“If they were just looking for information because they needed it for research, I wouldn’t feel the way I do about it,” McConnell said.

In fact, McConnell isn’t the only one receiving the requests.

“This is happening all over the state,” McConnell said. “Treasurers have been discussing it through email and counties have been complaining and feel the same way.

“The taxpayers of Clarion County are essentially paying to help these companies to make money.”

By Pennsylvania law, companies are not doing anything illegal since there is nothing stating someone can’t sell information collected through Right to Know requests.

McConnell just called it, “proficient capitalism.”

“That’s just the way the law is, and I am not going to refuse to do it because it’s part of my job to provide people information,” he said. “I treat them the same way as I do any other request. I am just bothered by them profiting off the information.”