February 29, 2024

Recorder’s office digitizes mortgages | The Daily Standard Stories

Saturday, February 3rd, 2024

By William Kincaid

Photo by Paige Sutter/The Daily Standard

Mercer County Recorder Julia Peel pulls out a mortgage book at her office in the Mercer County Courthouse.

CELINA – The Mercer County Recorder’s Office is in the final stages of a multi-year project to upload mortgages to its website.

Once completed, all mortgages dating back to 1980 will be available to view on the office’s website, said county recorder Julie Peel.

“I know here in Mercer County, our attorneys and title searchers, there are some that still do like to come into our office and physically see it in hand, but there are some that will do it right there in their office,” Peel said.

The transition has proved to be a laborious task for the small office staff of four, necessitating the aid of third-party vendor US Imaging to fast-track the scanning, inspection, grouping, indexing and verification of thousands upon thousands of mortgage documents.

“I would say this was probably my biggest project going into being appointed as recorder,” said Peel, who in January 2023 was picked to fill the vacancy when Angie King left to represent Ohio’s 84th House District in Columbus. “Even though I had been in the office nine years at that time, I wasn’t behind the scenes like Angie as recorder.”

The project involves the close collaboration of US Imaging, Peel, her staff and the county information technology department.

The initiative was prompted by an Ohio House bill introduced on March 31, 2021, that would require county recorders to make electronic indexes and electronic versions of public instruments recorded on or after Jan. 1, 1980, available on the county recorder’s website.

The bill originally required the modernization to be ready by Jan. 1, 2024, Peel said.

“Here in our office, we had a lot of documents back to 40 years (online) except for our mortgages,” Peel explained. “Our mortgages at that time (2021) only went back to ’96.”

Peel also pointed out that deeds all the way to 1940 can be viewed on the office’s website at mercercountyohio.org/elected-officials/recorder/.

Photo by Paige Sutter/The Daily Standard

With a limited staff, Peel is willing to jump in and help with any task.

With a limited staff, employees worked on the project during downtime.

“We would actually take those books (of recorded mortgages), scan in the book and then we would link those pages and then someone would eventually go in and index them and then someone would go verify them and then it would go out to the web,” Peel noted.

However, progress was impeded once staff found that some mortgages contained social security numbers which had to be redacted.

“And during that timeframe we had lost a staff member and we were training a new staff member,” she said.

Not knowing if they would be able to meet the legislation’s deadline, the office arranged to outsource a bulk of the work to US Imagining. An agreement was struck in August 2022, and county commissions moved to pay for the services with American Rescue Plan Act funds. The total cost of the services, including preparing the images for import, came to about $79,000.

US Imaging grouped, indexed, verified and transferred the records to external hard drives, which staff then began importing to the office’s recording software.

At this time, most mortgages recorded through 1992 can be accessed online. Those going back to 1980 are gradually going live after undergoing a final in-house inspection to ensure US Imaging has redacted social security numbers and met other requirements.

“As we get through there, we will open and not have them hidden from the web so that you can actually see them,” Peel said.

As the mortgages are entered into the recording software, they trigger the office’s fraud alert notification system. Those who have signed up will receive alerts.

“Just a reminder, these are not current recordings and not a cause of concern,” Peel said, noting anyone with questions may call the office at 419-586-4232.

It will likely take a least a year before all mortgages through 1980 are viewable on the website.

In the meantime, the House bill that sparked the project never made it out of the finance commitee, Peel said.

“Since they didn’t end up passing it … we decided, ‘We’re already in the middle of getting this done, we’re going to go ahead and finish, and that way if they do happen to pass it, we’re done,” Peel said. “We meet the requirements and we’re good to go on with other projects in our office.”

Photo by Paige Sutter/The Daily Standard

Shelves of books contain recordings of the title history and any significant legal actions on a property within Mercer County.

Peel and her staff serve as custodians of records pertaining to real estate ownership, including land records, mortgages, encumbrances and/or liens.

“It provides a chain of title for the properties and our records go back to the early 1800s, and we have some documents from the U.S. government,” former recorder King previously told the newspaper.

The office has seen less foot traffic in recent times.

“The more we put online, the less we’re starting to see,” Peel noted.

Among the notable finds in the vast repository of records is documentation of an 1888 Dublin Township land transfer from the U.S. government to the chief of the Miami Tribe. The chief was given the land in exchange for ceding territory to the government.

Another historical curiosity is an 1828 record of a land lease to Johnny Appleseed in exchange for planting 40 apple trees, confirming that America’s earliest forester and environmentalist sowed his apple seeds in Mercer County.

Documents related to the Randolph slaves, who were denied land set aside for them in Mercer County upon their emancipation, also continue to be a source of public interest.

The 383 men, women and children upon their arrival were met by armed farmers and were not permitted to take possession of the land, King had said. County records pertaining to the land purchase are scattered and wholly incomplete.

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