Court costs increase the lesser of two evils

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 3, 2000

Around town this week there has been a lot of discussion about a proposed new county jail and where the money will come from to pay for it. When voters go to the polls on Tuesday, June 6, each will have the opportunity to vote either for or against a special referendum that will add $45 to court costs in Butler County as one option. If that doesn't pass, however, the county commission has made it clear that a sales tax increase for the county is not far behind. If you haven't made a decision on this issue yet, read further, there is a lot to consider.

First of all, the commission has given the voters two options and two options only. Had they their way, the commissioners would have increased sales taxes months ago and construction for the new jail would probably be already underway.

However, during two public forums hosted by the commission, voters of the county came out in force against any kind of increased taxes and the general consensus of those in attendance was that if faced with two options, the increase in court costs would be better than increased sales taxes. The Advocate has since said that we support the option of increased court costs because we feel that the option provides our county a way of providing a new jail for our legal system by letting those who go through the legal system pay for it. To us it sounds logical.

On May 31, however, a letter to the editor from Howard Haygood encouraged voters in the county to vote "no on the referendum in regards to court costs." While I personally have great respect for Mr. Haygood and his right to voice his opinion, I have to say that I emphatically disagree. I disagree primarily because Mr. Haygood's reasoning does not address the simple reality of the issue: we will have a jail, that is no longer up for discussion, and we have only two choices as to how we pay for it-either we increase court costs in the county for ourselves, or the commissioners will increase our sales taxes for us. It is really that simple.

Mr. Haygood seems to think that we should risk the sales tax issue and vote out of office any commissioner who supports it. The reality of the issue is that four of the five sitting commissioners have already said they are willing to put their political future on the line to push this issue through. So, no matter whether we vote the pro-tax

commissioners out or not, the legacy of the sales tax, which all citizens of the county will be forced to pay, will be left behind anyway. I for one do not wish for that to happen. As a bonus for the commissioners, they will still have four years to sit on the board before the community could take action against them.

Mr. Haygood also seems to feel that increased court costs are an unfair tax on the poor. I feel this is an unfair argument, based on stereotypical information and not fact.

According to the circuit clerk's office, lower income people are no more likely to receive a traffic citation than someone with a higher income. And, while there is some correlation between poverty and crime, the fact remains that each and every one of us holds the key to paying, or not paying, increased court costs. Quite simply, if you don't want to help pay for the new county jail you don't have to. Stay out of trouble, don't get sued, don't speed or run stop signs, and don't give the cops any reason to come out to your house and the responsibility for paying for the jail will fall to those who do.

We must all remember that the county has already settled one lawsuit out of court to the tune of $40,000. And, a similar case against the county that had been dismissed was recently reopened on appeal. Cases like this will continue to hinder our county unless we do something about the problem now. If we, the citizens, can't come up with a solution soon, however, it is only a matter of time before a federal mandate will force us to build a jail that is more expensive than we really need.

It is time to put this issue to rest. Please, vote yes on the referendum that increases court costs in Butler County.