New law allows for waiver of court fines for low-income individuals

PAXTON — Ford County’s budget could see a reduction in revenue under a new state law that streamlines the fines and fees Illinois’ circuit courts can collect and allows low-income individuals who are unable to pay their court fines to petition for those fees to be waived.

Public Act 100-0987 — the Criminal and Traffic Assessment Act — was signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner on Aug. 20. Among other changes, the law makes all criminal court fees consolidated to unified schedules, realigns fees so that they comply with the Illinois Constitution and allows for full or partial fee waivers for low-income individuals if specified conditions are met.

The law is effective July 1, 2019, except for certain provisions that went into effect July 1, 2018.

Bruce DeLashmit of the Bloomington-based consulting firm Bellwether LLC informed the Ford County Board’s finance committee on Thursday morning of the new law and its potential impact on the county’s budget. His firm recently completed a fee review of all Ford County departments.

The new law, DeLashmit said, will change the court fees charged to defendants to make them consistent statewide. How much the restructured fee schedule impacts the county, he noted, “really depends on where your current judge is on where they assign fines and fees in the allowable range already.”

“If you were low in that range, then the change in the statute won’t impact you as much as it would if you were high in that range,” DeLashmit said.

But the “big wild card” regarding the law’s impact on the county, he said, will be how many low-income individuals successfully petition the court to have their fees waived.

“We believe that when word gets out on this, there will be a lot of (people taking advantage of the waiver),” DeLashmit said.

Another Bellwether LLC representative told the committee that the new law will have an effect on the budgets of a number of county departments, including the circuit clerk’s office, state’s attorney’s office, probation office and sheriff’s office.

“It will effect your general fund and all the special funds for those offices,” she said. “It’s kind of big and wide-sweeping.”

One provision of the law, she noted, changes which kinds of cases to which sheriff’s offices can apply a $10 inmate medical fee. That could result in lost revenue for the sheriff’s office, she said.

Bellwether LLC is already working to do a “financial impact analysis” for a number of counties in the state regarding the law’s impact on their budgets. During the meeting, the firm offered to do one for Ford County, too.

Finance Committee Chairman Chase McCall said that later this month, his committee would be starting the budgeting process for the fiscal year that begins Dec. 1, 2018. The budgeting process was delayed, but McCall said he expects there to be no issues in getting the document drafted and approved by the county board by the start of next fiscal year.

DeLashmit told the committee that the county’s budgets appear “functional” but are not guiding the county’s decisions like they should. DeLashmit said his firm could help the county build budgets in upcoming years to improve them.

DeLashmit also reminded the committee that 2019 will be a “special year” for the supervisor of assessments office, which will be completing its quadrennial revaluation of properties in the county that year, as required by state law.

“By statute, all of your properties have to be revalued in 2019,” DeLashmit said. “It’s key on EAV (equalized assessed valuation) development.”

Other business
Also during Thursday’s committee meeting:

➜ The committee voted 4-0 — with committee members McCall, Bob Lindgren, Randy Berger and Gene May voting “yes” and Tim Nuss and Randy Ferguson absent — to recommend the full board approve an agreement with the Ford County Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD). The agreement calls for the county to contribute $5,000 next fiscal year to the SWCD to help support its programs and outreach activities.

➜ The committee voted 4-0 to recommend the full board approve the destruction of records kept by the probation office and supervisor of assessments office.

➜ The committee voted 4-0 to recommend the full board approve the sale of a property in Kempton whose taxes went unpaid to Evan Jehle. Of the $1,959 paid by Jehle, the county will receive $1,327.

➜ The committee discussed but took no action on the proposed creation of a part-time position to be shared between the circuit clerk’s office and sheriff’s office. McCall asked that a job description first be provided by the circuit clerk and sheriff.

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