County votes to abate ambulance tax

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The Edgar County Board meeting Wednesday, May 8, touched on several issues, including a revote on awarding the special service area ambulance contract to Horizon Health.

Board chairman Jeff Voigt requested the new vote because of a procedural error involving the April 22 special meeting when the contract was awarded. Voigt said the new vote was necessary to keep everything open and above board.

Nothing changed. Board members Dan Bruner, Jon Chittick and Phil Ludington voted against giving the contract to Horizon Health. Other board members Derrick Lorenzen, Karl Farnham Jr. and Andy Patrick supported Horizon Health. Voigt’s tie-breaking vote gave Horizon Health the contract.

Horizon Health’s emergency director Samantha McCarty informed the county board the ambulance service operated out of Paris Community Hospital received its third ambulance May 7, well in advance of the contractual start date of June 1. She added a fourth ambulance is due for delivery in mid-June.

In a related matter, the board also voted to abate the special service area ambulance tax residents of Hunter, Stratton, Elbridge, Symmes, Grandview, Buck and Paris townships pay. Horizon Health claims it can provide the ambulance service without the tax. Prior to the vote it was clarified that abatement is not abolishment.

The tax will not be collected for fiscal year 2019, but it does remain in place and may be levied in the future if conditions change.

Edgar County Circuit Clerk Angie Barrett briefed the county board about new civil fees and criminal and traffic assessments being charged by her office. The new fees start July 1, and Barrett said the costs are based on Illinois Supreme Court directives and state statute.

“The supreme court wanted more uniformity in how clerks assess fees and the terminology used,” said Barrett, adding there isn’t much leeway for the local courts to charge more or less than what is stipulated. She added, “It is what it is.”

What she does not know at this time is what economic impact the new laws will have on her office.

Criminal defendants may receive a $30 daily credit toward bail while sitting in jail, and starting July 1 those convicted of a crime can petition the court to abate the fines and fees in amounts of 25 percent, 50 percent, 75 percent and 100 percent depending on individual financial circumstances.

Barrett said it may take a year working under the new laws to know how much money, if any, the county loses as a result of the changes in fee structure and waiver of fines and costs for criminal convictions.

Another change accompanying the Criminal and Traffic Assessment Act is the citation forms used by local law enforcement agencies are no longer valid after July 1 and new forms must be printed. Barrett plans to attend a workshop on using e-citation and encouraged representatives of local law enforcement to accompany her.

“That’s expensive as well,” said Barrett.

County engineer Aaron Lawson reported work to convert the empty lot across from the Edgar County Jail into a parking lot for the sheriff’s department is advancing as weather allows.

This project is part of the downtown beautification and green space effort between Prospect Bank, the City of Paris and Edgar County.

Lawson explained the parking area is needed prior to future work at the jail property connecting that site to the master plan for development behind the bank to Union Street.

“The sheriff needs parking so we can tear up behind the jail,” said Lawson.

He added the work being done on the west side of Central Street is preliminary and he hopes to let the ground settle naturally before finishing the parking lot.