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Archive for Saturday, August 2, 2003

Detention bill angers Hutchinson parent

August 2, 2003

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— Reno County officials are reviewing their policy on billing parents whose children are in the youth detention center.

Commissioners decided three years ago to bill parents for some of the costs of housing children at the Reno County Juvenile Detention Center.

But for Joann Fields, a single mother from Hutchinson, a $910 bill for several days her daughter spent at the detention center was a problem.

"What am I paying my tax dollars for?" she asked county commissioners Wednesday. "I'm working and paying for my kids. I could have sat at home and taken welfare, but I didn't. I don't think it's right. The people on welfare get help. I have three kids. I pay taxes. I'm not on welfare. I'm trying."

Youth Services Director Bill Hermes said 80 accounts with fees totaling $89,067 had not responded to repeated requests for payment.

Hermes hired a lawyer to recover those fees for one-third of what he can collect.

But Hermes said it might be time to go to court with some who haven't paid.

Hermes said 33 accounts had bills of $250 or less, and most of those were only $125. Another 46 accounts have bills ranging from $251 to $4,000, and one person owes $19,000.

Commission Chairman Francis Schoepf asked whether it made sense to pursue the smaller accounts.

"Why take it to court if you know you aren't going to get it?" Schoepf asked. "Some people just don't have the money."

County Counselor Joe O'Sullivan said Hermes had authority to accept settlements and payment plans on outstanding bills. Hermes said he would give commissioners a plan on how to determine whether someone qualifies for a settlement.

Fields said she couldn't afford any more payments. She makes just enough to keep from qualifying for government assistance but not enough to pay another bill, she said.

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