Ward 2/Marksville City Court funding: An ongoing issue
Marksville City Council members aren’t the only elected officials still bothered by the funding arrangement to pay the operating costs for the Ward 2/Marksville City Court.
In response to complaints by Mayor John Lemoine and council members at the Feb. 14 council meeting, the Police Jury sent financial records and a request to “correct” some incorrect numbers. It was noted at the City Council meeting that Marksville received no fine money from the court in January while the parish received $2,867.
The Police Jury shows it received $1,715 in fines from the court in January. However, it notes that it spent $8,521.79 for the court’s operations -- a net loss of $6,853 for that month.
In February, the Police Jury received $2,997 in court fines and again made a monthly payment of $8,520.79 as its share of the court’s operating expenses.
The Police Jury’s budget sheet for 2017 shows it paid $102,250 and received $65,062 in fines for a net loss of $37,187.
The City of Marksville also paid $102,250 as its half of the operating costs, but only received $4,940 of fines in 2017 -- a loss of $97,310. Marksville also pays utilities and maintenance costs for the city-owned court offices and courtroom.
CITY TICKETS, ARRESTS
In addition, Lemoine argues that most of the traffic and misdemeanor cases stem from tickets written or arrests made by city police, who are paid and supported by over a $1 million budget paid by the city.
Jurors use that same fact to support their position that the parish should not be required to pay for what they contend is “a city court” that is sucking limited resources that could otherwise be spent to support parishwide needs.
Only a relatively few cases originate in the unincorporated area of Ward 2 outside the city limits, they argue.
For many years the Police Jury and City Council had a “gentleman’s agreement” whereby the Police Jury paid a minimal amount required by statute -- between $16,000 and $18,000 a year -- and the city would pay the remainder of the court’s operating costs. In exchange, the city received all of the fines collected by the court.
That was a good deal for the city back then because the court was receiving more in fines than it cost to operate the court.
A few years ago, the court’s operating costs increased when it was ordered to purchase an expensive recording system and hire additional clerks to handle the court’s responsibilities.
Lemoine then led the fight to force the parish to pay half of the operating costs -- as originally required in the statute that created the ward/city court.
The current funding arrangement began July 1, 2015.
The Police Jury received $68,862 in fines in 2016 and had a net loss of $33,388.
Prior to the end of the “gentleman’s agreement,” the Police Jury paid only $17,168 for all Ward/City Court-related expenses and received no fines from the court.
ORDINANCE VS. STATUTE
The Police Jury instructed the District Attorney’s Office to prosecute as many cases as possible as violations of state statutes rather than city ordinances.
Most of the city’s ordinances are also state statutes. A few, such as the “saggy pants” ordinance, are not based on state statutes.
The result has been that the two local governments equally share the cost of the court, but the Police Jury gets an overwhelming majority of the fines collected.
As pointed out in the jury’s budget numbers, even that overwhelming majority of fines is insufficient to cover its monthly payment to cover the court’s expenses. That deficit is even greater for the city.
However, as Councilman Clyde “Danny” Benson pointed out, the city would be losing more money under the previous arrangement than it is now because it would be paying the Police Jury’s share of operating costs and adding the jury’s net loss to the city’s.
The court’s cost exceeded revenues by $140,498 last year.
Lemoine’s dream solution is for everything to be split evenly -- the operating cost obligation, fines collected and annual deficit of costs to revenues.
Jurors have been clear they will not voluntarily agree to that. They want to return to the previous arrangement.
The two entities tried to sit down to negotiate a settlement of their differences. However, both sides quickly established their starting positions and neither made a move toward the middle.
There has been no attempt to renew negotiations for several months.