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Taxing crime
Barton Co. triples book-in fees
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The trouble with tax cuts is that they cost so much.
Take, for example, the state’s decision to phase out the collection of mortgage registration fees. The fees represented an unfair tax, because a person who could afford a bigger down payment paid a smaller fee than someone who had the borrow more. However, some counties have had to raise property taxes to make up for the lost revenue.

This week, Barton County found a little more money for its general fund by tripling the book-in fee, from $15 to $45, that is changed at the county jail. The fee had not been raised since it was established at the beginning of 1999, so perhaps it was time. The increase was suggested because it was the lowest charged in the state (not counting those who charge $0), and because the state allows a fee of up to $45.

Those fees do add up. In 2012, according to the Topeka Capital Journal, Shawnee County received $90,000 from similar $45 fees.
It would be nice if fees were based on the cost of providing a service. In this case, the fees are intended to offset the costs of booking someone. Did $15 cover that? Does a 200 percent increase cover it?

This is the latest in a list of increased fees. For example, in Kansas and most other states, defendants can be billed for at least some of the cost of a “free” public defender.

In fact, according to a year-long study conducted by National Public Radio, court costs are increasingly being paid by defendants and offenders. That, in turn, causes poor offenders to face harsher treatment than offenders who can afford to pay.
“Defendants are charged for a long list of government services that were once free — including ones that are constitutionally required,” NPR reported. “Impoverished people sometimes go to jail when they fall behind paying these fees. Since 2010, 48 states have increased criminal and civil court fees.”

Law abiding citizens face the same problem, with fees spiking here and there. Still, this fee increase “because we can” seems excessive and thoughtless.