Keep public notices in newspapers

Everyone who spends money wants a return on their investment … don’t they?

At your community newspaper — and at newspapers across Pennsylvania — the investment of the taxes you pay to local government that are spent with us on public notice advertising are returned through our work to report the activities of your local, state and national elected officials and governments.

We work to keep government transparent and working for you.

That’s not to mention our reporting of community events and the people who step forward to help others, to grow communities … to improve our quality of life in Central Pennsylvania.

Yes, we work hard (as we always should) to bring you news and information from and about your communities … and your local governments.

Tax increases and spending.

Public education and school board issues.

Road and bridge maintenance.

Zoning changes.

Park development and improvements.

Street cleaning and debris pickup.

Economic development.

We work to give you a return on your investment.

This is why we’re again deeply disappointed by another attempt by state Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Altoona, to take public notice/legal advertising away from newspapers.

Keeping public notices in newspapers will reach the most people, by far, and cost government less than any other alternative.

The combined reach of Pennsylvania newspapers, in print and online, far exceeds any other alternative for public notices. Pennsylvania newspapers reach 82 percent of adults every week. In contrast, web traffic to many government websites is so low that it cannot be measured. Spreading public notices across thousands of local government websites would make it impossible for interested citizens to keep track of government activities or hold government accountable.

Pennsylvania newspapers already provide government with the lowest advertising rate given to comparable advertisers. They already post public notices on their news websites, and upload them, at no additional charge to taxpayers or government, to a statewide, searchable database,

Pennsylvania newspapers have offered – and are continuing to offer — a solution that responds to local government concerns about cost and access AND best meets the needs of both government and taxpayers.

It will cost government more, not less, to take over public notices, including increased IT, personnel, and unemployment costs. Conservative estimates put IT maintenance costs alone at $1,000 to $3,000 a month, per website (annual costs range from $2.4 million to more than $48 million per year, across Pennsylvania), plus significant up-front costs regarding site security and redundancies.

Additional, real costs to government include staffing, unemployment compensation costs of more than $1,000,000 per month, and corresponding losses in income tax receipts.

The solution already provided by Pennsylvania’s newspapers guarantees efficiency, independence, and also guarantees that the most people will have access to public notices, including significant populations not on the Internet: Up to 29 percent of PA residents do not use the Internet at all; 36 percent of seniors do not use the Internet at all and 49 percent of seniors do not have broadband access at home. Lower Internet usage rates continue among rural residents, minorities, lower income individuals and the disabled as well.

Finally, the public notice process must be independently carried out and verified. Despite the fact that most government officials and workers are honest, hard-working people, the headlines are filled with examples of self-dealing and cronyism in government, and public mistrust is high.

Public notices are important to helping reporters find out when government meetings are held, when zoning hearings are held, when there are large property transfers important to the public, when there are vacancies on volunteer government committees, authorities and commissions, when special meetings or hearings are required on government issues that affect readers, that affect taxpayers, that affect the public.

Local governments cannot police themselves, and to allow them to control the entire public notice process would threaten faith in government and put both government and the public at risk.