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Hernando County considers doubling court fee

BROOKSVILLE — The County Commission may have found someone to help pay to improve courthouse facilities, maybe even the long-awaited judicial center: you.

That is, if you commit a civil, criminal traffic or misdemeanor offense.

A change in state law signed by Gov. Charlie Crist last month allows counties to double the $15 fee that is added, at the judge's discretion, to such cases. Last year, the $15 surcharge brought in more than $300,000. Doubling that could raise a significant amount of money for court facilities and law libraries.

When the commissioners first discussed the idea late last month, not everyone was in favor.

"I appreciate what the governor is doing, but I don't like it,'' said Commissioner Jim Adkins. With the economy in such trouble and the county's unemployment rate at nearly 13 percent, "I just cannot support any increase to what we're doing right now,'' he said.

Commissioner John Druzbick was concerned that Hernando County would be increasing what locals pay for infractions only to see the money siphoned off by the state.

"How much is the state getting and how much are we getting? That's my big concern,'' he said.

County finance director Amy Gillis later told commissioners that the county clerk collects the fee and then turns the money over to the County Commission.

Commission Chairman Dave Russell didn't want to see the idea shot down without commissioners getting more details and discussing it further.

"Two-thirds of this county's expenses are for law enforcement and the jail,'' he pointed out. "The people who avail themselves of that system by breaking the law should be the ones paying for it.''

But now Russell said he is leaning against the idea.

It adds fees to a citizenry already tired of increased costs across the board for everything from licenses to fines, he said. Also, "it takes some of the discretion away from the judges,'' he said Thursday.

Russell said he expects the issue to return for more commission discussion on July 28.

The fee now is levied at the option of the judge, and records show that Hernando judges uniformly impose the fees. If the new surcharge is passed by ordinance, judges would have to impose it.

Assistant County Attorney Erica Moore said Hernando County collects a higher amount of the fees imposed than other counties. In 2008, 91.7 percent of the surcharge for civil traffic penalties was paid by violators, and nearly 60 percent of surcharges for misdemeanors and criminal traffic cases was collected.

Statewide, such collections run 90 percent and 40 percent, respectively.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

By the numbers

$15 The existing surcharge added to civil, criminal traffic and misdemeanor cases.

$30 The surcharge the county is considering.

$300,000+



The amount the surcharge has raised over the last year.

Hernando County considers doubling court fee 07/09/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 9, 2009 8:58pm]

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