Ottawa County land records and platt maps are now online and free for public access, according to Ottawa County Clerk Reba Sill.

She calls it a “win-win.”

Genealogy researchers think it is “fantastic” as do residents with interest in land transactions and title research.

The biggest winners, however, are the local taxpayers who can now see the justification of fees assessed for document filing, photo copying and record preservation within Ottawa County, according to Sill.

Through the assessment of small fees, Sill has built an in-house preservation program that not only ensures that researchers will forever be able to access records, but the plan has reduced the cost of preservation - allowing taxpayer dollars to be redirected to other county needs.

Assessments gathered since 2001 have allowed for a computer upgrade that enabled clerk's office employees to begin scanning incoming land records and submit them to an in-house database.

A year later, part-time employees were hired to begin scanning old records, working their way backward toward the archives that pre-date statehood.

Last month, the data was uploaded to the Internet and can now be viewed worldwide.

“It is all free to the public and that is one thing that we are really, really excited about,” Sill said. “We wanted this to truly be a service to our citizens.”

Sill is now working with Ottawa County officials to build a county Web site that will provide those looking for county land records with a direct link to the records site.

“Getting to the (Internet location) where the records can be accessed is not really logical at ‘,'” Sill said. “That is not the fist place that people are going to look. We want to make it as easy for people as we can. Hopefully, we can do that through an Ottawa County Web site.”

The online records provide information that will give researchers information they need, but images of the actual documents are not available for download.

Employees of the clerk's office are also working to make scanned images searchable by text, meaning that words scanned as an image will be triggered in applicable online searches.

Sill said having images available for viewing and private download is a long-range plan, but would require an estimated $7,000 a year in support costs.

“We really want this to remain a free service,” Sill said. “To allow for the images to be accessible would require a user fee. We really just don't want to do that.”