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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Council rejects court fee

Thursday, July 10, 2014

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Martinsville City Council has refused to levy a new fee on people convicted in city courts, despite originally endorsing it.

The General Assembly recently adopted legislation letting localities assess a fee of as much as $5 on all criminal and traffic cases to cover operations and maintenance costs for an electronic court summons issuance system.

City Attorney Eric Monday said the system mostly is used when police officers issue tickets for traffic violations.

In a 2-2 vote Tuesday, the council defeated a proposed ordinance that would have allowed the city to charge the full $5.

A majority vote was needed for approval.

The council had adopted the ordinance on first reading in a 4-1 vote June 24. The fee had to be adopted on second reading to become official.

Council members Sharon Brooks Hodge and Danny Turner cast the opposing votes on Tuesday.

Hodge was the dissenter during the previous vote. Turner voted in favor of the ordinance then, but he indicated that he thinks the fee should be lower.

The fee could hurt people with financial troubles by “making it harder for them to live,” Turner said Tuesday, noting that small fees added together could be a big burden for someone.

Vice Mayor Gene Teague, who made the motion to adopt the ordinance on second reading, indicated he thinks the $5 fee would be fair. He said the fee would be paid only by “those who break the law.”

“We all have the option of not using the” summons system by not speeding or otherwise breaking traffic laws, Teague said.

Without the fee, law-abiding citizens will have to subsidize the system, he said.

Monday said he understands Turner’s concerns. If people cannot pay their court fees, he said, they might lose their driver’s licenses and not be able to travel to their jobs, which they might lose. If they were to drive to their jobs without a license, the police might stop them, and then they may go to jail. Then they would not be able to support themselves and their families.

Under that scenario, they still would have to find a way to pay their court costs, he said.

Hodge said she opposes the fee due to factors such as not knowing if it actually is needed to maintain the system and, if it is, how much the city would need to collect from it.

Turner suggested that city Circuit Court Clerk Ashby Pritchett attend a council meeting to prove the fee is needed.

Councilman Mark Stroud was absent from Tuesday’s meeting due to back problems, according to Mayor Kim Adkins, who seconded Teague’s motion before it was defeated.

Also Tuesday, the council voted unanimously to convey some city property for the development of a new medical school uptown.

The Integrative Centers for Science and Medicine (ICSM) aims to open the school in a former grocery store building at the intersection of Fayette and Moss streets.

Dr. Noel Boaz, director of the centers, asked the council to convey to ICSM parts of an adjacent city-owned parking lot. They include 21 feet of land at the building’s east side, 30 feet of land now used for a driveway at the back of the building and a small brick building also at the back of the building.

The school plans to have its main entrance on the east side, said Assistant City Manager/Community Development Director Wayne Knox.

The conveyance was subject to several conditions. Among them, ICSM must provide a utility easement to a power line. It also must return the property to the city at no cost if the school is not developed, a document shows.

During a public hearing, Sam Gamble of The Sportsmen’s Club on Fayette Street said the conveyance should be fine as long as ICSM recognizes that customers of businesses along the street use the parking lot.

Therefore, the lot should not be torn up or made muddy, Gamble said.

Knox said the medical school is not expected to affect a garage on the property where city school buses are kept.


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