Tag Archives: municipal court

New Traffic Fines in Byrnes Mill

25 Jun

With SB5, the municipal court reform bill awaiting the governor’s signature, breathing down its neck, the city of Byrnes Mill has reduced its highest-in-the-county traffic fine schedule, reported the Leader on May 28. However, city judge Colby Smith-Hynes and Mayor Susan Gibson seem to want us to think they made the changes because they wanted to, not because they had to.

Some of the fine reductions include:

  • Speeding 10mph over – reduced from $100.50 to $60.
  • Speeding 30mph over – reduced from $300 to $240
  • Child restraint violation – reduced from $175.50 to $24.50

SB5 allows cities outside of St. Louis County to derive no more than 20% of their revenue from traffic tickets, down from the previous (and weakly enforced) 30% limit. Byrnes Mill was most recently at 28%, so the law, assuming it is signed, will force Byrnes Mill to reduce its ticket income. In addition, the law will limit fines for minor traffic violations to under $300, which Byrnes Mill’s old schedule violated for three infractions.

Smith-Hynes gave other reasons for making the change, though. He said the STL County standardized fine schedule, which Byrnes Mill adopted,  “seemed appropriate.” He also said “there is more consistency” and “they are easier to understand.” Mayor Gibson said “it looks like a fair schedule.” This is a city that only a couple of months ago converted its website into an anti-SB5 propaganda page, predicting doom and gloom if it passed. Now Gibson says this won’t be a hardship to the city.

The Leader, to its credit, pointed out the SB5 provisions in its article.

According to the Leader, Smith-Hynes is also reviewing fines in Hillsboro, where he is also judge and where fines were 3rd-highest in the county.

Thank you to the local legislators who voted for SB5 (which was all JeffCo representatives), thus paving the way for these changes in Byrnes Mill.

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MO House Eases up on JeffCo with SB5 Amendment

16 Apr

SB5 is the bill the state Senate passed to reduce the percentage of general revenue a city can obtain from traffic tickets. The current cap is a poorly enforced 30%. SB5, which passed unanimously, reduces that to 20% statewide, and then in 2017 would reduce the cap in first class or charter counties to 10%. The 10% provision would cover 19 counties including Jefferson.

However, according to the Post-Dispatch, a state House committee amended the bill so that the cap would be reduced to 15% in St. Louis County. Elsewhere, including JeffCo, the cap would become 20% (see amendment text here on page 36).

This change from a 10% cap to a 20% cap spares Festus, Hillsboro, and Pevely from being affected by this bill, based on 2013 numbers. Byrnes Mill would still be affected, since it was at 26% last year, but the city’s revenue would take much less of a hit. Note that the 26% number includes non-traffic tickets, which aren’t included in SB5’s calculations.

However, the House amendment adds something that would hit Byrnes Mill and Hillsboro – a provision limiting total fines plus court costs for minor traffic violations to $200. As I showed here, these two cities have a few fines that exceed $200. These would have to be reduced under this law. Note that driving more than 19 miles over the speed limit does not count as a minor violation.

It should be noted that this is merely an amendment passed by a committee. The House Select Committee on the Judiciary will take up this bill next, then it will go to the House floor. If the House passes the bill, the House and Senate would then have to reconcile their bills before sending one to the Governor.

JeffCo Traffic Fine Comparison – Guess Whose are Highest?

2 Apr

When it comes to raking in revenue from traffic and other tickets, writing a lot of tickets is only part of the equation. A city must also charge high fines for infractions. The DOJ’s Ferguson report notes that Ferguson prides itself on having higher fines than surrounding municipalities (page 10) for traffic and other offenses. Well, it may not surprise you to learn that Byrnes Mill has the honor of charging the highest fines in Jefferson County.

In the table below (click to enlarge), I have chosen a sampling of offenses and listed the fine charged by each JeffCo municipality, along with those charged by the county. The highest fine for each offense is highlighted in yellow and the second-highest is in blue. A blank cell denotes that an infraction is not listed on the schedule for that city. These numbers include court costs. Note that some cities have a different fine for each mile over the speed limit, which is why ranges are listed in the speeding rows for Pevely, De Soto, and Herculaneum.

fine schedules

As you can see, Byrnes Mill leads the pack in 9 of 16 offenses and is 2nd highest in 4 of them. Pevely has the highest fine in 6 offenses and the 2nd highest in 3 of them. Interestingly, Hillsboro’s fines are, in all but a few cases, precisely $2 less than Byrnes Mill’s. Both cities share the same judge, Colby Smith-Hynes. While it is the city council/board of aldermen that ultimately sets a city’s fines, perhaps the judge has some input in those two towns.

Byrnes Mill claims (dubiously) to have changed its ways and reformed its police department. If that is actually the case, perhaps the city should prove it by reducing some of its fines.

Here are links to each city’s full fine schedule:

Byrnes Mill – JeffCo’s Ferguson

15 Mar

Amidst the release of the Justice Department’s report on policing in Ferguson, many have made the point that Ferguson is not much different that many surrounding communities. While most such comparisons are made exclusively with other St. Louis County municipalities, I maintain that we have our own Ferguson right here in Jefferson County – Byrnes Mill. Let’s review:

    • Ferguson was pulling in about 21-23% of its revenue from court fines. Byrnes Mill has brought in 26-37% of its revenue over the past three years from tickets, according to city budgets (though it went down from 2013 to 2014). Byrnes Mill will have some issues if the bill to cap traffic fine revenue at 10% of total city revenue passes the legislature (it already passed the Senate). Note: the percentages above include both traffic and non-traffic tickets. The latter wouldn’t count towards the 10% cap.
    • The DOJ report mentioned that Ferguson’s fines for individual offenses were generally higher than those of its neighbors (page 10). Similarly, Byrnes Mill’s fines are generally higher than those of other JeffCo cities. In a sampling of 18 offenses, Byrnes Mill had the highest fine in the county for eight of them and the 2nd-highest for four of them (Note: I am missing data for two courts).
    • Several Ferguson officials, including the judge, mayor, court clerk, and several patrol supervisors, got tickets taken care of for themselves or others. A lawsuit against Byrnes Mill by former interim chief Mike Smith claims that city administrator Larry Perney fixed one or more traffic citations and directed officers not to ticket one or more (specific) individuals.
    • The Ferguson report lists a number of violations of Constitutional rights by Ferguson officers (starting on page 16). Byrnes Mill was sued several times for similar violations under former chief Ed Locke, including unlawful arrest, unlawful seizure (towing cars unnecessarily), and 1st Amendment retaliation.
    • I reported here that Byrnes Mill filed 1.8 municipal court cases per resident age 16+ in FY 2013, the most in the county by far. According to data submitted to the state, Ferguson filed 1.5 cases per resident age 16+ that year (population figures are from the 2010 census).
    • The main focus of the Ferguson report is race, of course. I could compare Byrnes Mill to Ferguson in this regard, but Byrnes Mill is 97% white, and the police there only stopped 18 black drivers in 2013, according to data send to the state attorney general (page 139). So I’m not sure such a comparison would be valid.

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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