IS YOUR CITY’S NEWSPAPER OVERCHARGING FOR LEGAL NOTICES?
Numerous Texas statutes require cities to publish notice of various city actions. Chapter 2051 of the Texas Government Code generally governs the type of newspaper that should be used, as well as other notice-related issues.
One issue that appears to continue to plague some cities is the amount a newspaper charges for legal notices. Some city officials may be surprised to learn that Section 2051.045 of the Government Code provides that “[t]he legal rate for publication of a notice in a newspaper is the newspaper’s lowest published rate for classified advertising.”
Further, Section 2051.048 provides that a city shall publish notices in a newspaper that is: (1) published in the city; and (2) willing to publish the notice at or below the legal rate. If no newspaper published in the city will publish the notice at or below the legal rate, the city shall publish the notice in a different newspaper that: (1) is published in the county in which the city is located; and (2) will charge the legal rate or a lower rate. (The law also provides that, “if no newspaper published in the county in which the city is located will publish the notice at or below the legal rate, the city shall post the notice at the door of the county courthouse.”)
Suspicious that some newspapers are overcharging cities to publish legal notices, the League conducted an informal survey of a handful of newspapers. League staff presented each newspaper with three separate notices and asked for pricing:
- a simple notice to sell a car, which was 3 lines/66 spaces;
- a required legal notice for probating an estate, which was 52 lines/724 spaces; and
- a government procurement notice, which was 77 lines/1705 spaces.
For each notice, the terms were varied as to number of days, cost per day, and cost per inch/line, etc. To be able to compare each cost in a uniform way, the results were broken down into a standard, that being “cost per space or letter per day.”
Of the fourteen major daily newspapers surveyed, half charge more per space/letter per day for a government procurement notice than for either a car or probate notice. What do those results tell us? It depends.
State law provides that “[t]he legal rate for publication of a notice in a newspaper is the newspaper’s lowest published rate for classified advertising,” but it does not provide a methodology for determining a newspaper’s “lowest published rate.” The “cost per space/letter” methodology used in the League’s survey seems reasonable, but it has never been tested in court.
In any case, the results of the informal survey show that – depending on how a newspaper claims to calculate its rates – some may be overcharging for legal notices in violation of state law. City officials who feel that their newspaper’s rates may exceed those allowed by law may wish to have a conversation with their newspaper about the issue.