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County may increase court fees to help with budget

LAWRENCEVILLE - Increasing fees to file court documents could raise millions of dollars for county coffers, according to the latest study to balance Gwinnett government's budget.

But many of the proposals in a two-page report from the county's judicial staff would require legislation.

The report, delivered by Court Administrator Phil Boudewyns and conducted by judges, prosecutors and other court staff, comes a week after Boudewyns and others met with county staff about the $43 million funding shortfall for 2009, which could come from the county's dwindling reserve fund.

"The county is in a situation where we are short of funds, and anything we can do in locating more funds or reducing our operations (expenses), we will do," Boudewyns said.

In a three-month-long service study conducted for the administration side of government, officials identified more than $70 million in potential cuts, from library funding to closing the county prison. Officials have not determined which of the moves will be made, although commissioners ruled out the disbanding of ambulance services and officials have already announced the elimination of nearly 100 jobs in the planning and development and water resources departments.

Some of the judicial proposals, including a 100 percent increase in Clerk of Court filing fees that could yield $5.5 million, were already included in the Service, Value, Responsibility report discussed last week.

But judges also recommended using a collection agency to garner outstanding fees and fines, adding a court technology fee and increasing the maximum fines for misdemeanors from $1,000 to $2,000.

Those measures would require acts by the General Assembly, but court officials have already completed moves that could save the county about $200,000 next year, including reviewing the use of bailiffs and using law library funds to pay the law librarian's salary and benefits.

Beginning Jan. 1, a judge could add fees on to criminal sentences to assist in filing costs, a move expected to increase the county's revenues more than half-a-million dollars.

A review of jury summons policies and procedures is under way, which could account for $750,000 in savings.

Judges are also considering increasing bond forfeiture schedule rates in Recorder's Court and Juvenile Court, although the increased revenue amount hasn't been determined.