The Public Records Act allows an agency to impose a “reasonable charge” for providing copies of public records but states that “charges shall not exceed the amount necessary to reimburse the agency”. RCW 42.56.120. An agency may not charge to locate, review, or redact a public record. An agency shall make and publish a statement of its actual costs that are directly incident to copying, including the cost of paper, copying equipment, and postage for shipping. RCW 42.56.070(7). General administrative charges such as salaries and benefits of employees may not be included unless they are directly related to actual cost of copying. Staff time to copy and mail records may be included. RCW 42.56.070(7)(b).
The Attorney General’s Office has provided informal advice for the calculation of staff time to copy records. A reasonable method should be based on the wages of a position that ordinarily would be tasked with the bulk an agency’s copying services. An agency should not calculate the cost based on the higher wages of an employee who might occasionally make copies, but does not provide the bulk of the agency’s copying services. An employee’s benefits should not be used in the calculation unless they are directly related to copying. Almost all benefits are unrelated to copying. Most benefits relate to the general terms of employment regardless of job duties that may be assigned, while wages vary depending on job duties. If benefits are used to calculate the staff time for copying records, there should be a statement explaining how the benefits relate to the actual copying costs.
Additionally, the Attorney General’s model rules state:
An agency should generally compare its copying charges to those of commercial copying centers. WAC 44-14-07001(2).
An agency can send the project to a commercial copying center and bill the requestor for the amount charged by the vendor. An agency is encouraged to do so when an outside vendor can make copies more quickly and less expensively than an agency. WAC 44-14-07001(5).
Agencies are required to adopt rules to provide the “fullest assistance” to a requestor. RCW 42.56.100. An agency should allow a requester to choose to obtain copies from a commercial copying center where the copies will be produced quicker and cheaper.
Where an agency does not make a determination of its actual costs per copy, it may not charge in excess of fifteen cents a page for copies. RCW 42.56.070(8).