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Probate judge complains about $10 fee

Perry County Probate Judge Donald Cook complained to the county commission Tuesday regarding the proposed $10 recording fee in his office. The commission approved a bill being introduced into the state legislature to allow for a $10 fee on transactions in the probate office.

He did not like the “blanket type approach” being taken for a fee on all transactions, and the judge said the fee would hurt people of lower income.

Some adjoining counties do have a $5 fee, Cook said. Normally such funds are earmarked to the discretion of the probate judge for the upkeep of his office. However, the fee the Perry commission is proposing is going to the county general fund with none of the money directly going to the probate office.

The probate office only gets a small portion of fees paid; the state gets the majority, Cook said.

He was concerned that he had to read about the $10 fee in the paper, and he was not consulted before the fee was proposed. Cook asked the commission to “go back to the drawing board” on the fee proposal.

The judge also expressed other grievances with the commission including the change of the computer system in 2001, which resulted in a loss of 10 years of data, and the transfer of an employee from probate to another county office. He said the county did not pay for one of his official trips.

In addition, Cook said his office needs funding for imaging equipment.

Perry County does not have the revenue that some of the surrounding counties have, said Commission vice-chairman Albert Turner. The county needs the money from the $10 fee to pay for $119,000 in textbooks that will the children of Perry County will need.

“Your office is one of the most expensive offices in the courthouse,” Turner told Cook. “It generates not nearly enough money for all the necessary expenditures. You say we didn’t consult with you (concerning the $10 fee). In Hale County, the judge is the chairman of the commission; in Perry County, you’re not.

“In Perry County, this commission is the legislative body in the county that decides on how to spend money, generate money and to operate this county the best that it can.

“I don’t want you to leave thinking it’s personal,” Turner said. “The decision this commission made was that we needed to generate this money….We could have put it to your discretion, but your discretion may not jive with the majority of the discretion on this commission. Therefore, we wouldn’t want to even impose that on you.”

The probate judge needs to be involved in commission decisions concerning his office, said Commissioner Brett Harrison. “He’s involved by implementing what we pass,” Turner said.

In regard to paying for the judge’s official trips, “no department head is going to travel anywhere if it doesn’t affect the dues and operation of his office,” Turner said. “We’re cutting back. We’re being fiscally conservative in our approach. Things that don’t pertain to your office, there won’t be any checks signed by me.”