Olmsted County Taxpayers on Hook for $1.5 Million in Uncollected Fees

Olmsted County residents owe nearly $1.5 million in uncollected fees for services they received this year. But as 2019 winds down the chances of collecting most of those funds appears unlikely, according to the Rochester Post Bulletin.

“There are a wide variety of things we charge for,” Deputy County Administrator Paul Fleissner, said noting the fees are related to a variety of county health, housing and human services.

Approximately half of the uncollected fees — $747,000 — are related to alcohol and drug detox efforts, according to a report produced by Olmsted County Chief Financial Officer Wilfredo Roman-Catala.

Fleissner said the detox fees are related to two- to three-day stays at Zumbro Valley Health Center, which provides services to the county under contract.

At a cost of more than $300 a day, Fleissner said many low-income residents are unable to pay.

In spite of efforts to collect the revenue on the part of county authorities, only twenty percent of those charged for receiving services actually pay their bill.

The county has made a variety of efforts to collect the funds, Fleissner said, including turning the accounts over to a collection agency, looking at bank accounts and putting claims on tax returns. Some collection efforts could continue even after the county has written them off.

The overall amount of uncollected fees reported this year is the second lowest amount the county has written off in the past five years. The average write-off in those years is $1.56 million.

Officials attempt to make allowances for low-income families and individuals with a sliding fee scale based on the recipient’s income. But even then the delinquency rate hovers at 80 percent.

Even though the cost for each household can be flexible, and is determined on the perceived ability to pay, Fleissner said some clients struggle to find the funds.

“It’s just another barrier to them getting back on their feet, so there’s a balance there,” Fleissner said.

He noted some counties are starting to waive such fees to reduce barriers for finding help.

As usual, that leaves taxpayers to foot the bill. But one county commissioner cautioned against eliminating fees altogether.

County Commissioner Matt Flynn said he’d be reluctant to support such a move.

“If somebody doesn’t pay, the rest of us do,” he said, limiting the practice could be taken too far.