Scofflaws could see higher fees

COLUMBIANA – The city will soon be cracking down on people avoiding the law by imposing higher costs for violators not appearing for Mayor’s Court.

Police Chief Tim Gladis gave the suggestions to council this week.

He is proposing a $20 increase in court costs, and warrant blocks and driver’s license forfeitures for those who do not appear.

He and Mayor Bryan Blakeman, Municipal Attorney Daniel Blasdell and the court clerk discussed the changes prior to council.

“We felt like there were ways to deal with those folks who are not being cooperative. We do not want to abuse those that are doing the right things,” Gladis said. “It seems like a small minority of people are creating the greatest amount of cost.”

Blakeman said he was “shocked” when he first took over Mayor’s Court because less than 50 percent of people on the docket actually appeared for scheduled court dates.

Blakeman replaced David Spatholt as mayor in January.

“I don’t want to penalize anyone who is not deserving I just want word to get out to the town that if you are going to completely disrespect the court and our police department and not show up when you are ordered to, there is a cost to that,” Blakeman said.

Gladis said the increased cost is not designed to be a revenue stream but to cover expenses.

Court costs are currently set at $49 for non-moving violations and $59 for moving violations. Of that, the city gets $20. Tax cases are considered non-moving violations.

The proposed increase would result in costs of $69 and $79 each, with the city receiving $40.

“I am in total agreement with everything the chief has said with the philosophy behind the increase in costs costs are intended to cover expenses,” Blasdell said.

He also said the costs are consistent with those being charged by the county municipal court and at least one other community in the county.

“It’s an appropriate thing to do but the final decision is yours,” he told council.

Information provided by Gladis showed the court spends about $12,200 a year and those costs include $2,100 paid to the clerk, $3,900 to the judge or magistrate, and the cost of printing and purchasing citations, and required software updates and support for the outdated computer.

“We are bringing in slightly less than 40 percent of that amount,” he said of expenses, and added the court needs to purchase a new computer.

The current computer is 16 years old and about 10 times past its lifespan, he said.

Blakeman said it does not have Internet access, and the court needs to be able to file electronically.

Gladis agreed.

“We may be one of the only people in Ohio that are doing this pen and paper,” he said.

He then suggested the court impose warrant blocks and driver’s license forfeiture for those who do not appear.

State law allows for both, with forfeiture for traffic violations only, and other communities in the county are already enforcing them, he added.

A warrant block bars an individual from applying for a driver’s license or vehicle registration.

Blocks would be lifted and driver’s licenses reinstated upon payment of a $50 fee.

Gladis said the blocks and forfeiture would not apply to people who “try to do the right thing and take care of business as they are supposed to do” with regards to Mayor’s Court.

Blasdell said he would provide council with an amendment to the existing ordinance to include the cost changes at the next meeting.