If state Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, is successful in pushing House Bill 5479 through the legislative process, Hardin County may have exactly what it needs to recoup its policing and medical costs from outsized, outlandish events near Cave-In-Rock.
In terms of math, the problem is pretty easy to understand. Hardin County is rural and tiny. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, it has a population of less than 4,320.
Two events, the annual gathering of motorcyclists known as Hog Rock and the annual gathering of Insane Clown Posse fans (called Juggalos), can double or triple the county's population during their respective weeks.
With those sudden influxes, not to mention the pattern of drug and alcohol consumption at the events, there is a need for police and emergency medical services.
Among those receiving medical treatment, it is not at all uncommon for the recipient to give the provider a false name and address, thereby leaving the county facing the cost.
So while the campground is on private property, the responsibility for public safety and the hefty bill for public services falls on county taxpayers. Granted, state police provide all the help they can, but there are only so many troopers assigned to Southern Illinois, a large geographical area.
And these are not your everyday concerts. They are multi-day events that are sometimes marred by violence. In recent years, police have dealt with a fatal stabbing, a drowning and multiple drug overdoses.
The last Hog Rock cost the sheriff's office $12,000 in overtime, extra patrols and other expenses. The Gathering of the Juggalos has a similar impact. The county incurs the costs over a couple of weeks, but it struggles to pay them all year long.
Here is why we like Phelps' bill:
• It would allow the county - and only counties of less than 35,000 population - to impose an amusement tax of up to 6.5 percent on patrons attending such events. That tax would be directed to the costs arising from the events. It also provides that the promoter of such events must obtain a license from the county.
• The particulars are not mandatory; counties can opt-in or not. In fact, the legislation does not specify 6.5 percent; it merely caps the tax at 6.5 percent of the admission fee.
• This is an enabling measure; it gives small counties, including Hardin, a chance to address their own, unique problems. In fact, counties would have to write local law to implement the details.
• Phelps said there is nothing in the bill to make the legislation, should it become law, a target for a state revenue grab. The bill is simply designed for use by counties that need it, as they need it.
"The intent is to arm small counties with a tool to help them recoup their costs," Phelps told The Southern Illinoisan on Wednesday.
House Bill 5479 is a good idea. We'd urge all Southern Illinois lawmakers to get behind it and convince their colleagues from more-populated areas that small, rural counties sometimes simply need the legal framework to solve their problems, not a slew of bureaucracy. Phelps' proposal is a model of local control.
This bill puts the burden squarely on those who use the services and profit from the events. That is as it should be.