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County cash crunch means higher fees may be coming to a pooch near you

St. Clair County fees could increase

St. Clair County IL could increase fees for public service in some departments.
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St. Clair County IL could increase fees for public service in some departments.

St. Clair County needs to generate some cash, so it is spending $30,000 on a consultant to figure out which fees are outdated and could be increased.

When we are talking $50 for a deputy to serve a summons, it seems like the simple answer is to increase all the fees. Just double them all and save the $30,000.

But County Board member Frank Heiligenstein argues that fees can save property taxes, or at least the likelihood of future property tax increases.

“If we didn’t have those fees, the tax rates in any county would be much higher,” Heiligenstein said. “It amounts to millions of dollars.”

Take a look at the county’s 2016 revenues and there’s a clue why this issue is the stuff of fiscal fantasy. Heiligenstein’s millions is actually tens of millions.

The county’s revenue was $91.3 million. Licenses, permits, fines, fees and services tallied $21.7 million — nearly one-fourth of the revenue.

So maybe the $30,000 is a good investment.

Still, if the county is hurting so much that it doesn’t have $20,000 for 4-H, doesn’t have money for raises and needs to boost fees, there may be a few places to look at cutting. Hmmm. ... Where to start?

How about MidAmerica Airport? Give it to the U.S. Air Force, and there’s $8.29 million in subsidy the county doesn’t need to pump in. Remember the county’s magic refinancing trick, where they took a $40 million debt from the airport construction bonds and turned it into an $88 million debt your grandchildren will be repaying? Even if you count the debt service, you still save $3.29 million by closing the airport.

How about the East St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners subsidy? There’s $108,000 the county has no business spending. If the city wants its own election board, it should shoulder the financial burden without passing costs on to the rest of the county’s taxpayers.

How about the courthouse law library? That’s a $249,181 expense this year. If they want to increase fees, how about library cards for the judges and lawyers.

How about the East Side Youth Violence Prevention Plan? It gets $1.15 million. Might it be time for Plan B?

Here’s one prediction about what the consultants will recommend: Fido and Fluff-Fluff will soon cost you more. Those $10 rabies tags you buy only generated $48,510 last year, but animal services spent $120,000. Break-even would be a $25 tag.

Don’t like that possibility? Ruff!

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