Justice Court funds restored

State legislation that was draining funds from Jackson County's Justice Court and could have closed the operation likely will be reversed by a new bill that is on its way to Gov. John Kitzhaber's desk.

House Bill 2562, passed during the recently ended legislative session, will reduce the amount the state collects on traffic citations to $45 from $60.

In addition, $16 from each fine will be paid back to the county to help pay for drug and alcohol programs, and juvenile and adult corrections programs, funding eliminated in previous legislation.

The changes will restore funding that was lost when the state law regarding how traffic fines are divided was revised in 2011.

"It just brought it back to the way it was," said Jackson County Administrator Danny Jordan.

The 2011 revision went into effect Jan. 1, 2012. It eliminated surcharges on traffic citations that funded Justice Court operations. It also bumped the state's portion up to $60 and reduced fine amounts.

A Class C violation, for example — which is the most common type of traffic ticket — used to carry a fine of $190, with $45 going to the state. That fine dropped to $160, and the state took $60 of it.

Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, said the original intent of the 2011 revision was to streamline how various levels of government shared proceeds from traffic citations, and legislators said that changes could be made if the outcome proved detrimental.

"They had said ... if this made some impacts that weren't anticipated, they'd come back and fix it," Jordan said.

Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, who chairs the state's Ways and Means Committee, said the 2011 revision was also meant to bring some consistency to citation amounts, which varied by county before the bill's passage.

"Different justice courts had different rates they were fining people," Buckley said. "The concern expressed was, 'As you're making these changes, is there going to be some unintended consequences?' "

Following the bill's passage, Jackson County saw a revenue drop of between $500,000 and $750,000 for the Justice Court.

"All of 2012 was the worst year in the last five years," Judge Joe Charter said of the court's dip in revenue.

Other counties felt the impacts too, he said.

"We could see their revenues were off by 15 to 30 percent," Charter said.

Buckley said several counties expressed concern, but Jackson County officials were the most vocal by far.

For Jackson County, the declining revenues meant a potential shutdown of the Sheriff's Department traffic team. The eight-deputy team was created in 2004 after 45 traffic-related deaths occurred that year, which was the second-highest number statewide. Three years later, that number dropped to 15.

"It's important that (we're) able to continue those functions," said Jackson County Commission Chairman Don Skundrick.

Buckley said new law is an attempt to find a permanent, fair solution.

"It's a work in progress. We're doing it step by step," Buckley said.

Ryan Pfeil is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. He can bereached at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com.

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