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'It's killing us' - county leaders say unintended consequences hurt local taxpayers

Hall County Supervisor Steve Schuppan shakes the hand of Sen. Steve Halloran (NTV News)

The cost of crime and punishment adds up, and a local county says the expense is killing them.

In part, Hall County leaders blame the state.

Board Chair Pam Lancaster said, “Unintended consequences of legislation can kill a county budget.”

Lancaster and her fellow county supervisors gave state senators an earful, expressing frustrations.

Sheriff Jerry Watson pointed to fees the state allows his office to college, that fall far short of the cost to serve papers on behalf of debt collectors.

“The mechanism is broken,” Watson said. “It’s broken.”

Senators Steve Halloran and Dan Quick listened intently as Watson made his case.

Halloran agreed it’s an issue. He said, “We shouldn’t at the county level be subsidizing debt collection agencies.”

Watson told lawmakers the shortfall costs taxpayers nearly $200,000 dollars a year. He said that’s enough money to hire three deputies.

Instead, he’d like the county to be able to set fees as they determine, so he can cover expenses.

Another huge expense is probation. With prisons overcrowded, senators say probation numbers are up.

Halloran said, “The unintended consequence for the county is that they end up footing much of the bill for probation expenses.”

In Hall County, it meant a building they bought to grow into was maxed out almost immediately.

Lancaster said, “That building with the renovation cost us nearly $1 million. That's not upkeep, not what it costs us year to year. Besides that, we're responsible for furnishings and we're responsible for technology, their computers.”

Hall County board members say they watch every penny.

Lancaster said, “The farmers are having a real tough time, revenues at the state are down which reflect that and of course the people here, we don't want to raise taxes on people that are already struggling. That's crazy.”

Lancaster said few lawmakers have county government experience, so they want their senators to understand. Hall County is served by three senators – Quick, Halloran, and Sen. Curt Friesen who was unable to attend.

Board members shook hands with Quick and Halloran, thanking them for visiting.

“Got everything off our chests,” Supervisor Steve Schuppan said to Halloran as he left.

They hope their concerns stay with senators as they head back to session.

“They work hard, they were here, and that means a lot to Hall County,” Lancaster said.

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