Fee Increase 1

By Bob Balgemann


BELVIDERE – The Boone County Board has approved requests from the Circuit Court Clerk’s office and health department to increase a variety of user fees.

Action came Wednesday night, Aug. 19, in varying votes.

For Circuit Court Clerk Linda Anderson the need for higher automation fees was simple. With them she’ll be able to balance her 2015-16 budget. Without them that won’t happen and the 17th Judicial Circuit’s chief judge won’t approve her new budget if it isn’t balanced.

Board members voted 9-3 to approve the request with Kenny Freeman, Brad Stark and Cathy Freeman dissenting. Only Ward qualified her vote.

She explained she could not support any fee increase when the requesting office had a healthy fund balance in its accounts. In the clerk’s case it was about $500,000.

The recommendation for approval came from the county’s administrative and legislative standing committee. Chairman Paul Larson countered Ward’s opposition by saying this was a user fee. It is triggered anytime the court is involved in the proceedings, whether civil or criminal.

Ward said she understood it was a user fee. But she said taxpayers already are paying to keep county offices open and she didn’t believe they should be required to pay more on top of their taxes.

The automation fees will increase from a range of $5 to $15 to between $15 and $25, depending on what is filed. The adjustments will become effective Dec. 1, the start of the county’s 2015-16 fiscal year.

Health department fees

Also Aug. 19 the board voted 10-2, with Freeman and Ward in opposition, to approve an increase in environmental fees requested by the health department.

Ward reiterated the position she had taken on the circuit court clerk’s request. She added that while she was appreciative of the work being done by department Administrator Cynthia Frank, “We have to start saying, ‘no.'”

In the case of the health department this is the first fee increase since 2011, said board member Sherry Branson. She also is a voting member of the Board of Health, which oversees the health department, as a representative of the county board.

She said the department checked what other nearby counties were charging for their environmental services. They found that even with the proposed increases Boone County fees would be the same, or lower, than those charged in Winnebago, McHenry and DeKalb counties.

In addition, department officials determined exactly how much it cost to deliver those environmental services, many of them different kinds of inspections.

Another county board member, Karl Johnson, recalled there was an issue last year with helping pay for the county soil and water conservation budget. “We worked with the health department on that while reducing their funding,” he said. “They were to bring a proposal like this back to the county board and they did.”

He commended the department for the thoroughness of the research behind its request for fee increases.

In addition, board member Raymond Larson said a few fees actually decreased.

Committee Chairman Larson reiterated what he had said about the circuit court clerk’s request, saying these are user fees and “not for everyone in the county. Reserves are keeping this health department going, partly because of reductions in state funding.”

He added that any notion of the health department reducing its levels of service was not acceptable.

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