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Council votes in favor of court fee

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A new $5 fee is likely to be charged to people convicted of traffic and criminal offenses in Martinsville.

In a unanimous vote, Martinsville City Council on Tuesday adopted on first reading — for the second time — an ordinance to levy the fee, intended to cover operations and maintenance costs for an electronic court summons issuance system.

The council will consider the ordinance for final approval at its next regular meeting on Sept. 9. Final approval would mean the fee officially is enacted.

That is, unless the council flip-flops on the issue again. On Tuesday night, it gave no indication that it would. Council members indicated they now are satisfied with details they have received about why the fee is needed.

The summons issuance system mostly is used when police issue tickets for traffic violations, but the fee would be imposed on both criminal and traffic convictions, according to City Attorney Eric Monday.

Earlier this year, the General Assembly adopted legislation allowing localities to charge a fee of up to $5 to help operate and maintain their systems.

In a 4-1 vote on June 24, the council initially adopted an ordinance on first reading for the city to charge the full $5. But when the ordinance came up for adoption on final reading two weeks later on July 8, it was defeated in a 2-2 vote.

Councilman Mark Stroud, who favors imposing the $5 fee, was absent from the July 8 meeting because of a medical problem. He later asked for the fee to be reconsidered.

Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge opposed the ordinance the first two times it came up. Councilman Danny Turner supported it the first time but voted against it the second time, saying he favored a lower fee.

After hearing from Police Chief Sean Dunn on Tuesday about why he thinks the fee is needed, Hodge and Turner changed their minds. Turner made the motion to adopt the ordinance on first reading. Hodge seconded it.

Dunn told the council that it costs $25,500 a year to renew a software package required to use the “e-ticket” system. The police department is covering that expense in its annual budgets, he said.

In 2013, a total of 4,186 criminal, traffic and circuit court summonses were issued in the city, Dunn said.

Based on that number, he estimated that the $5 fee would generate about $14,000 annually. He said he wants to use that money to upgrade hardware — such as computers and printers in police cars — for the system.

Such hardware has a useful life of roughly three to five years, Dunn said, adding that equipment in use today is “approaching three (years) or older.”

The system reduces the chance of mistakes being made when citations are recorded, such as if police records clerks cannot read an officer’s handwriting on traditional written summonses, officials have said.

Both Turner and Hodge indicated they now think the fee is justified, based on the information provided by Dunn.

“Any fee coming out of taxpayers’ pockets deserves a thorough justification,” Hodge said. Turner made a similar comment.

 

 
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