LAKE COUNTY — With a backdrop of looming budget talks, the Lake County Board of Commissioners voted to approve an additional staffing position at the Lake County Trial Court during their meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 23.

Court administrator Georgia Simpson approached the board with the request to hire a juvenile register/intake supervisor.

"I think this comes at a terrible time from the standpoint of the Lake County TRV closing and not knowing where our budget will be," commissioner Karl Walls said. "But I don't think Georgia would ask for this if it wasn't really needed. The department is improving and this will help with what they are trying to do. There's a lot of reasons to vote it down from a budgetary standpoint, but we need to keep it high on our budget priority."

Judge Mark S. Wickens sent a letter of support to the board saying, "The court is willing to increase the tickets and criminal assessments by $25 on average to help defray some of the costs that this position is going to cost the county."

According to Wickens, the court fees have not been increased in 11 years, and the entire fines and costs of the court need to be examined for possible increases which will contribute to the general fund and help pay for the new position.

"Our fees are low in comparison to other counties, but when we say increase them, there is a process that has to be done within the system to get all the information updated and the new fees added," Simpson said. "It's a very time-consuming process."

"We haven't raised fees because there was money available and we didn't need to, Walls said. "We need to be cautious that we are not just raising fees to hire someone, we want to be reasonable and fair and be within what other counties are charging."

County administrator Tobi Lake told the board the position would cost around $73,000 for the next budget year.

"Half of the cost will be charged to the childcare fund, and half of that will be reimbursed by the state," he said. "So, with the increase in fees the court is planning, the unfunded portion would be $11,800. That would come from the general fund."

Some commissioners expressed concern the new position may cause problems if the board is looking at layoffs in fiscal year 2020.

"My goal is to not have any layoffs," Lake said. "We are working hard to not have to do that. There are a lot of different angles to pursue, and hopefully we can avoid that."

The motion passed by a vote of 5-1, with commissioner Betty Dermeyer voting against.

In other business, the board approved a letter of understanding between the county and the Command Officers Association of Michigan requesting employees facing layoffs be paid out for remaining sick leave and vacation days.