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June 4, 2008

St. Joseph County Commissioners turn down fee study recommendation

The St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners has turned back a recommendation from County Administrator Judy West-Wing to engage Maximus Financial Services, Inc. to conduct a comprehensive analysis of current costs and revenues and make recommendations for fee changes.

A motion to move forward with the project failed on a three-to-three tie vote. Commission Chairman Robin Baker and Commissioners Monte Bordner and John Dobberteen voted in favor while Commissioners Mike Dunlap, Eric Shafer and Dave Pueschel voted no. The seventh commissioner, Gerald Loudenslager, was absent.

The proposal called for a flat fee of $30,000 for the study.

Some commissioners expressed concern about the expenditure for the study and opposition to fee increases.

In a memo to commissioners, West-Wing noted that the county first engaged Maximus in 1988 to conduct a user-fee study. Since then, some fees have been adjusted and new services and fees have been added. West-Wing said, “It is time to have an independent review by qualified professionals.”

Specific areas of concern cited by West-Wing include the tax/assessment service provided to most local municipalities through the Equalization and GIS departments and GIS data sold to municipalities and businesses. She said, “We need to assure that established fees are appropriately covering all the costs to provide the service.”

West-Wing said requests have been received in the past few years for the county’s GIS data for Internet/satellite based services, such as Map Quest and On Star, and she added, “These types of requests will continue.”

West-Wing said, “The county has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the GIS system and fees established should be appropriately set to assure compliance with the statutory provisions of the Enhanced Access and Freedom of Information laws as well as to provide an appropriate expense reimbursement stream. Maximus’ study will include this.”

According to West-Wing, the study she proposed would also review fees charged by other departments including Animal Control, Parks & Recreation, Register of Deeds, District Court, Treasurer, County Clerk and Sheriff’s Department. She noted that some fees are determined statutorily and cannot be subject to local change.


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