Brevard County continues push to move legal notices online
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Legal advertisements notifying Brevard County residents about upcoming meetings, zoning changes and other actions taken by the government could move online and out of print as soon as this week after a vote by the Brevard County Commission Tuesday. Earlier this month, the Commission made clear its legislative intent to move forward with the plan, citing a cost savings of managing its own website for notices over paying FLORIDA TODAY to print them. After Tuesday's public hearing on the matter, commissioners voted unanimously in favor of putting legal notices online.
Don Walker, county spokesman, said the county government can begin using the website as soon as "we identify which ads are eligible."
"Some ads will still be required to be posted in the newspaper. Some ads due to state and federal grants and other reasons are going to require being published in the newspaper," Walker said
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Currently, in most Florida counties, public notices are placed in three locations ― a printed newspaper; the newspaper's website such as https://www.floridatoday.com/public-notices; and a searchable Florida Press Association website that aggregates all Florida public notices at https://www.floridapublicnotices.com/
The amount of the potential cost savings to the county is unknown. Walker said Brevard County paid $79,756.73 to place legal ads in FLORIDA TODAY during the 2021-22 budget year.
Brevard County has contracted the Miami-based Column Software for $24,000 a year to provide a system for publication of the ads on the county website. Column Software also will mail legal notices to residents who request them, at a charge to the county of $1.19 per letter. The county also hired a staff web content and public notifications specialist at a combined salary and benefits of about $76,000 a year in January, and Walker said about 40 percent of that employee's job will focus on the county's legal notices webpage.
The county intends on making its website available to other Brevard municipalities and charter offices at a still-to-be-determined fee. Walker said the county is still working out that fee structure for those who choose to participate.
"They'll have to determine on our own which of their legal ads will be eligible and which won't," Walker added.
The move to take legal notices out of newspapers was made possible by a bill passed last year in the Florida Legislature, sponsored by state Rep. Randy Fine R-Melbourne Beach, that said county and local government entities could — but didn't have to — publish their own legal notices on a county website.
"We've been working on this since September," Walker said. "We've been posting ads on our website since December. Every ad that we've posted in the newspaper we've also posted on our website."
The legal notices will also still be going to the searchable Florida Press Association website that aggregates all Florida public notices.
Newspapers around the state, including FLORIDA TODAY, are lobbying against the move, citing transparency and visibility concerns, as well as noting the revenue hit to newspapers.
Commissioner John Tobia, who has been a proponent of the cost savings of moving online, proposed that some printed ads could actually be expanded for issues that are deemed more important, such as tax hikes. Currently the law requires a raise in taxes to be accompanied by a half-page ad in the newspaper. "What my motion does is it says we'll make that advertisement instead of a quarter-page we'll make it a full-page," Tobia said.
"I did not want anyone to say we're advertising online to try to circumvent transparency," Tobia added. The Board also approved Tobia's proposal to have the county attorney draft a new policy calling for the full-page ads of tax raises.
Tyler Vazquez is the Brevard County and North Brevard Watchdog Reporter at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Vazquez at 321-917-7491 or email@example.com. Twitter: @tyler_vazquez
This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Brevard County continues push to move legal notices onto county website