St. Clair County residents, businesses may face fee increases

News-DemocratNovember 24, 2013 

AP GRAPHICS BANK

Proposed fee increases for residents will keep St. Clair County from laying off employees in the coming year, according to county leaders.

The fee increases include building permits, restaurant inspections, copies of records and others. Those within the county's Health Department would increase incrementally in the next five years. For example, large restaurants will see the fee for county officials to inspect the business rise $25 each year from $450 in 2013 to $575 in 2018.

County Board members are slated to vote on the proposed fee increases Monday night.

The county will incur additional costs in 2014 with two elections costing about $300,000 and a 1.5 percent salary increase for employees at a cost of about $357,000, County Administrator Dan Maher told County Board members last week.

Maher said it was important for the county to give pay raises this year.

"Our employees are struggling out there. Right now, if we can manage it, it looks like we won't have to increase medical (insurance) cost to employees. They will get a pay raise and medical cost kept even. We cut spending in other areas to ensure that," Maher said.

The fee increases and $650,000 in reduced spending allowed the county to keep next year's budget slightly below the current budget, Maher said. The county's general fund, which provides funding to most departments, has been reduced by about $66,000.

"The bottom line at the end of the day is we were able to squeeze this budget back below 2013 levels," Maher told members of the board's Finance Committee.

The fee increases will keep the county from requiring mid-year budget cuts and possible layoffs, according to a memo from St. Clair County Chairman Mark Kern sent to board members. Kern could not be reached for further comment.

Fees account for about 30 percent of the county's total revenue. The county collected $30.6 million in charges for services in 2012, according to county audits.

In comparison, property taxes comprise about 32 percent of the county's total revenue with the county collecting about $32.5 million this year.

The proposal would increase all fees cost studies indicated could be changed, Maher said. The studies are required by state law to determine whether the increases are justified.

"There is no question this is a lean year ... This will be the fourth or fifth year we've been in a recession. A lot of those fees and fines have been static for the past four years," Maher said.

County Board member John West, R-O'Fallon, said he worried where the county could cut more should the economy not improve. Some county revenue stems from sales and property tax revenue, which have been relatively stagnant since 2008.

"It seems like we have a bare bones budget," West said. "I don't know where we're going to cut anymore. I don't see things getting better this year."

The county is seeking nearly $60 million through a property tax levy to be collected in summer 2014. However, Maher said the budget would allow the board to abate property taxes as it has in the past.

In April, the board reduced this year's tax levy from $57.1 million to about $32 million.

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

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