Byrnes Mill Has County’s Most Confiscatory Court

29 Nov

Update: It has been pointed out to me that both Byrnes Mill and Hillsboro have the same municipal judge: Colby Smith-Hynes.

Following up on my post about JeffCo police ticketing and search practices, here I will delve into the county’s various municipal courts (St. Louis County’s municipal courts have become controversial since the Michael Brown shooting). The state makes available data on number of cases and fine collections. This data is for fiscal year 2013. Here is my table (click to enlarge):

2013 Municipal Court Data for Jefferson County, MO.

2013 Municipal Court Data for Jefferson County, MO.

I ordered the data here by fines per person (based on 2010 population of persons ages 16+), and you can see that Byrnes Mill, notorious for its aggressive policing, leads the #2 city, Hillsboro, by more than a 2-to-1 margin. Byrnes Mill was also first in cases per person; Hillsboro was again second. You may recall that Byrnes Mill was first in arrests per person in the police stats I presented. Hillsboro was second in percentage of stops in which a ticket was issued. I have not heard of any reputation that the Hillsboro police have, similar to what Pevely and Byrnes Mill have, but perhaps one is needed, given these numbers.

Pevely was fourth in both fines per person and cases per person. Pevely was first in stops per person and ticketing percentage in the police stats. I should note that I reported in January that Pevely brought in $548,000 in ticket revenue in calendar year 2013, according to records from the city. The city’s fiscal year also runs from January to December, so I’m not sure what the discrepancy is between my data and the state’s data. Maybe something to do with when tickets are written versus when the money is collected. My numbers indicate Pevely brought in $262,000 in 2012, and budgeted for $425,000 in revenue this year.

It is interesting to compare Hillsboro and Byrnes Mill to Herculaneum, since they have similar populations. Herculaneum is near the bottom of the list in both of my measures. What’s up with that?

It is not clear to me why Kimmswick needs police or a court, if they are issuing no citations.

More on Byrnes Mill

This Show-Me Institute story outlines the eight cities in St. Louis County that derive the highest percentages of their budgets from court fines. The fines per person in the Show-Me article are per all residents, while the numbers in my table above are per residents over the age of 15. Using the article’s measure, Byrnes Mill’s fines-per-person number is $159.45.

Another important number highlighted in the article is percent of city revenue derived from traffic fines. The Mack’s Creek Law says this number should not exceed 30%. All eight of the STL county cities identified exceed that, and the overage should be directed to schools, but this law is not strongly enforced. The article notes that municipal court revenue numbers don’t differentiate between traffic and non-traffic fines; only the former count towards the Mack’s Creek limit.

Here is Byrnes Mill’s budget for 2012-13. The city’s fiscal year runs from July through June. Assuming that the ‘2012’ column is the 2011-12 budget, and the ‘2013’ column is the 2012-13 budget, we see that Byrnes Mill projected that municipal court fees would be 31.1% and 30.6% of total revenue in the two years, respectively; by far the city’s biggest moneymaker. We don’t know what percentage of this is from traffic fines (as opposed to non-traffic offenses), but it is surely high enough that the state auditor should investigate. The auditor is looking into St. Louis area municipal courts in the wake of Ferguson.

Courts in several outlying counties made the auditor’s list of 10 courts to audit, so the chances are decent that Byrnes Mill could make the cut next year if more courts are audited. The article says that “The list was a mix of cities with the highest number of traffic stops per capita, those that generated the most complaints on the auditor’s hotline, and those that raised the biggest concerns with elected officials.” That hotline number is 1-800-347-8597, by the way, and the office’s email address is moaudit@auditor.mo.gov.

Notice also that the budgeted income from the municipal court in 2012-13 was $340,000, but the table above indicates that the city brought in $443,433, which is about 33% more than budgeted.

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