On March 14, all4word asked me about my position on a city court for New Albany. I said I was not familiar enough with the question to give an answer.
My best source for background information on that issue is Judge Joe Weber in Clarksville. He is the Town Judge for Clarksville.
I spoke with him today and asked for his opinion on the question. I was fully prepared to receive an answer biased by his natural perception of the value of his own position. The answer he gave was, for me, surprising. He said almost immediately that New Albany probably does not need a City Court. He further volunteered that such a court, if established, would not make money for the city but would, rather, be a costly office to maintain.
The State-mandated level of court costs is $159.00 per case. Even though called a City Court the sharing of court costs still results in over four fifths of that amount going to the state; the City would keep just $30 per case. Judge Weber said the cost of establishing the court would include finding a courtroom, the necessary office equipment, and using his court as a model, a staff of three clerks and two bailiffs. He also suggested that probation officers may be required. He said the budget for his court is $250,000 per year. Again, even though a City court, the fines are divided between the county and the state. The one area where the City would keep a greater share of the fines levied is in local ordinance enforcement. Judge Weber asked, rhetorically, "does the fire department or police department make money?"
With all the recent discussion of rental inspections the obvious result of those inspections is stricter code-enforcement and some would assume that these code infractions would yield sufficient fines to pay for the structure of the court. Based on Judge Weber's comments that does not appear likely. The question then becomes, " is a City court the best way to achieve stricter code enforcement?" If Judge Weber's estimated budget of $250,000 annually were accurate for New Albany's City court perhaps a different mechanism for enforcement could be found and some or all of that money could be more directly applied to improving the housing stock.
Keep in mind that the Community Housing projects generate federal "match" which is an accounting credit that unlocks federal money for a range of programs all of which are focused exclusively on housing. These can include new construction or rehabilitation. If the match John Miller lights is properly applied it can heat up code enforcement perhaps more than a City court.