Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Fine for a Fee

Posted By on Tue, Aug 18, 2009 at 9:43 AM

The Council's public safety and homeland security committee took a turn this morning as a budget committee.

The committee considered two proposals — a traffic court docket for unpaid court costs and an additional fines for home alarms — that would bolster the city's coffers.

"[Citizens] are given time to pay court costs and fines and for some reason they don't do this," said council chair Harold Collins. "We have millions of dollars in outstanding court costs."

City court clerk Thomas Long has brought several initiatives to the council in recent months to try and enforce payment of fines and fees.

"If I go to court today, I've got 90 days to pay court costs," he said. "A majority of citizens who are required to pay court costs don't pay them, because they understand how traffic court works. ... There's nothing I can do. An individual cannot lose their drivers' license for failing to pay court costs."

An individual can lose their license for violating traffic law, however. Long suggested automatically sending those individuals back to court if they have not paid court costs within 90 days, and removing the dismissal of their original traffic violation.

City judges had problems with the plan, saying that people wouldn't have enough notice and that none of their judgments are conditional.

Without consensus between the court clerk and the judges, Collins pulled the proposal without objection from other members, saying he needed to work on it for a few more weeks.

Under the alarm proposal, which was also held for two weeks, homeowners whose alarms repeatedly went off would have to pay a $25 fine, as well as a $90 fee to cover the reporting officers' time.

"Two officers respond to the call and they get $45 an hour," said MPD director Larry Godwin.

The ordinance would be a joint Memphis/Shelby County measure, so both the City Council and the County Commission have to approve it.

As it stands, however, there is some question about the legality of enforcing the $90 fee. The council is looking for a legal opinion before moving forward.

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