URBANA — Marriage license and civil union fees won't be increasing in Champaign County this year.
The county board rejected a plan to raise the fees from $30 to $75 in order to generate an estimated $49,500 for the county's general fund. Under the proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning Dec. 1, the general corporate fund will have a deficit of about $132,000.
But only seven of 23 board members voting supported the fee increase. They were Democrats Michael Richards, C. Pius Weibel, Chris Alix and Brendan McGinty, plus Republicans Max Mitchell, Stephanie Holderfield and Steve O'Connor.
Among the opponents was Urbana Democrat Tom Betz, who said a fee should come close to matching the cost of providing a service. County Clerk Gordy Hulten said the most recent study, performed in 2002, said the cost of providing a marriage license was $20.
"And that cost may have actually gone down because of efficiencies," Betz said. "That bothers me because then what we would be doing is raising this as a tax."
Champaign Democrat Astrid Berkson said the fee increase "would be a real hardship for a lot of the young people today."
Rantoul Republican Stan James noted that the fee was increased to $30 a year ago.
"I don't think we need to just continually raise taxes and fees because we need the money," he said. "We need to find ways to operate within our means."
By rejecting the fee increase the board apparently also is turning down a number of new funding requests from county departments, including a request from the coroner for a $53,000 replacement freezer for the morgue, and $69,000 for an information technology programmer.
In addition to Betz, Berkson and James, others voting against the fee increase were Democrats Pattsi Petrie, James Quisenberry, Giraldo Rosales, Janet Anderson, Lloyd Carter, Alan Kurtz and Ralph Langenheim, and Republicans Steve Moser, Ron Bensyl, Aaron Esry, John Jay, Gary Maxwell and Diane Michaels.
Also Tuesday night, board members unanimously gave the OK for a Champaign County veterans' assistance commission to go into operation on Dec. 1.
The commission, which is to provide services and benefits to qualified indigent veterans in the county, will have an office at the county's Brookens Center in Urbana. It also will have a budget of about $122,550, of which approximately $40,500 is set aside for a full-time superintendent to distribute approximately $80,000 in assistance and to provide information about available services.
Champaign County is one of the last counties in the state to authorize the veterans' assistance commision, which is required by state statute.
"We've gone too long without having this in place," said Kurtz. "This organization is something we really need to pass."
Langenheim, an Urbana Democrat and a World War II veteran, thanked his colleagues for their help in establishing the commission.
In other action, the board approved a proposal by Weibel to change the county's liquor advisory commission from a standing, permanent board to one appointed as needed. The full county board will vote on the plan later this month.
Weibel, who will leave the county board in December, said the current liquor commission has met just once in his six years as the county's liquor commissioner.
"I have stopped appointing members because of the absence of something to do," he said in a memo to board members. "Earlier this year I sent a letter out to every rural bar owner in the county that asked for their opinion on the possible change. I received no responses."
The board members absent from Tuesday's meeting were Democrats Carol Ammons and Lorraine Cowart, and Republicans Jeff Kibler and Jon Schroeder.