Iowa counties losing thousands on marriage licenses

Business is booming for marriage licenses at the Scott County Recorders Office but the county and taxpayers are actually paying part of the bill toward wedded bliss.

“For us, the county, we lose money on this. We’ve tried to talk with lawmakers to get the fee increased,” said Scott County Recorder Rita Vargas.

The problem she says, is two-fold. The cost of doing business, and the formula for the state of Iowa’s share.

“We charge $35 dollars and through our own study, the cost for us to do it is $45. It’s the county and citizens that are subsidizing the marriages by $10. If we could get that changed, it would be a win-win for everybody,” said Rita Vargas, Recorder for Scott County.

More than 1,100 marriage licenses were bought at the office since April of this year, up significantly over last year.

Vargas says part of the rise is due to Iowa’s legalization of same-sex marriage. The numbers spiked the past three months after the Pentagon announced full benefits for same sex couples in the military.

Vargas says the cost to process marriage licenses for straight and gay couples is a losing proposition in Scott County and others around the state.

“The state gets $31, we get $4, and the burden of doing all the work is on us.  We pay for the employees, we pay for the special paper, we pay for the mailer,” she said. “It just doesn’t make sense not to be getting what it costs to perform the duties.”

“Our association is lobbying legislators,” Vargas said. “It would be nice if they would re-think the fee,” she said. Only the legislature can approve a fee hike, which – Vargas says she is hearing – is unlikely.

Vargas says she loves helping couples embark on the journey of marriage, but believes the county is shouldering more than its share of the cost, after paying the majority of the $35 fee back to the state.

“We’re not trying to gouge, but it doesn’t come close to our cost. Especially couples from the bigger cities, Chicago, Indianapolis, they can’t believe it’s all we charge is $35,” Vargas said.

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