Mary Ann Bennis has been Blair County's register of wills and recorder of deeds since 2004. In that role, she supervises a staff of nine employees who are responsible for recording and preserving legal documents concerning property transactions, wills and estates. The office is located on the first floor of the Blair County Courthouse. She recently spoke with Altoona Mirror staff writer Kay Stephens about her office.
Mirror: You were familiar with the county's register/recorder's office before you became register/recorder. What do you remember from that time?
Bennis: I was a real estate paralegal for 24 years, so I was familiar with this office from the other side of the counter. It had two basic computers for retrieval of information, so you often waited in line to use it, and then there was no printer, so you had to stand and write the information down.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Mary Ann Bennis, the Blair County Register of Wills and Recorder of Deeds, oversees a staff of nine employees who record and preserve legal documents concerning property transactions, wills and estates.
Mirror: How has the office changed?
Bennis: My first executive decision was to purchase a printer. Then I tapped into the resource that was always here: the staff. With their ideas and assistance, plans were made to purchase a computer system and software to scan and store the paper documents. And the office layout was rearranged to create designated work areas for those stopping in to search through the documents.
Mirror: Can anyone look at the recorded documents?
Bennis: Yes, with the exception of military discharge records which are impounded, all documents recorded in the office are public records and can be viewed during regular business hours of 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. In addition, the records are available for review at any time through www.landex.com, a online website, for a fee of 10 cents per minute and 5 cents per page view. That option currently generates $2,000 to $3,000 a month in revenue.
Mirror: What happened to the large deed books that onced lined the walls of this office?
Bennis: They were moved to the Roller-Hojeth Memorial Library, home of the Blair County Genealogical Society at 431 Scotch Valley Road, Hollidaysburg.
Mirror: How have the changes been afforded?
Bennis: Money became available through the state's adoption of the Record Improvement Act in 1998. That established a fee on recorded documents to create revenue for a fund managed by the register
/recorder's office. That act has been a big blessing. Prior office holders had to go to the commissioners for additional money for improvements.
Mirror: How many documents does your office handle?
Bennis: The register of wills office handles 700 to 800 estates each year. It also serves as a collection agent for the collection of inheritance tax for the state Department of Revenue. The recorder of deeds office handles between 25,000 and 30,000 recordings annually, based on the local economy and current interest rates.
Mirror: As register/recorder, your office collects a considerable amount of fees and taxes. What happens to that money?
Bennis: We collected $43.49 million last year and made monthly distributions to the state, Blair County, and all the municipalities and school districts within Blair County.
Mirror: Why is important for people to record their deeds and changes to their properties?
Bennis: That's something that goes back to our forefathers and was very important to them, because they came from England, where the king's ownership and control of property produced poverty and misery. Property ownership is important as it is the basis od individual freedom and economic security and capital. A good book that I am currently reading, "The Mystery of Capital" examines how accurate land records play a vital role in creating capital in the West.
Mirror: What do like about your job?
Bennis: The best part is helping people, and we strive to be an office that gives good customer service. But some people want us to give them legal advice and that's something we can't do. We encourage them to see an attorney for that.