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Study: Grundy County could charge more in user fees

MORRIS – The county could be charging higher fees, according to a preliminary cost study conducted by Bellwether Consulting.

Results of the study – presented at Monday’s Grundy County Finance Committee meeting – showed the county could raise as much as $440,000 more in fee revenue annually if it increased several user fees to match the county’s actual costs.

“They looked at absolutely everything it costs the county to do business in these offices,” said County Clerk Lana Phillips, who initiated the study.

The county paid $3,000 to see the results of the preliminary study, which analyzed costs of only the County Clerk and Recorder’s office, Sheriff’s Department and Health Department.

To see the full results of the study, the county will have to pay Bellwether an additional $21,000. The results detail exactly how much each department spends for its services.

The study will provide the justification needed to raise fees. Without the research and data, the county is not allowed to raise fees in certain departments.

The most-recent fee assessment survey was completed in 2009 by county auditor Tawnya Mack.

“The county board can’t go in and just arbitrarily raise these fees,” Phillips said. “Before fees can be raised, there needs to be a fee study.”

The finance committee was impressed by the preliminary results and approved a resolution to go before the county board in favor of spending the $21,000 to follow through with the rest of the study.

The $21,000 would come out of the county’s contingency fund – or rainy day fund – but the finance committee agreed the initial expense could be recouped quickly if the fee increases could be enacted this year.

“You have to spend some money to make some money,” finance committee member John Almer said during the meeting.

Phillips said she pursued the cost study knowing that the county will need additional revenues if point of sale tax revenue from Channahon is taken away.

“This is not money that would go into a special fund and it’s not money that would go to the state,” Grundy County Interim Administrator Heidi Miller said during the finance meeting. “This would go straight into our general fund, which I think is great.”

The study looks at user fees, which are only charged when a resident uses a particular service. Charges for birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, document recordings and other services are all considered user fees. 

“These are not fees that are spread out among all taxpayers,” Phillips said.

If approved by the county board at next month’s meeting, the study could be completed by May 1. However, the finance committee still would need to review the results to decide how to enact the fee changes.

Phillips said the county does not have to raise the fees to the maximum amount suggested. The county could also consider raising the fees incrementally every year, she said.

Phillips said the increases would begin raising revenue for the county this fiscal year.

“This is a justification as to why we are raising them,” Grundy County Chairman Ron Severson said during the finance meeting. “People will squawk, but we can show them our actual costs.”

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