Cities Get Free Jail Time for Municipal Scofflaws

Article excerpt

Heads up, scofflaws.

Municipal-court judges may be more likely now to toss you in jail if you don't pay your fine.

Municipalities have been paying $50 a day for each ordinance violator they send to the county jail. But County Executive Joe Ortwerth has initiated a policy that allocates to each of the 17 cities, towns and villages in the county one free slot in the county jail for each day of the year. St. Charles Municipal Judge Joseph Briscoe was glad to hear of the change, particularly for people who have the wherewithal to pay fines but don't. "Our little secret is there's not much we can do to them except annoy them, bring them back week after week and ask them why they aren't paying," said Briscoe, adding that now, "we will feel free to put them in jail." Briscoe has incarcerated ordinance violators in the past - four this year for a total of 15 days. But because of the new policy, cost to the city will be less of a consideration. Ortwerth made the change effective Oct. 1. But Briscoe had not heard the news until Tuesday. City police departments in St. Charles County have holding facilities, comfortable or, as Briscoe says, "humane" enough for a stay up to 20 hours. But the facilities lack showers and other amenities for a longer stay. Ortwerth initiated the policy on his own, bowing at last to mayors who had for years insisted that they had a right to house municipal-ordinance offenders in the Criminal Justice Center at 301 North Second Street. The jail was built with a sales tax paid by the whole county. The jail operation is financed by the county's general fund, which is supported by a countywide property tax rate of 3 cents for each $100 of assessed valuation and a sales tax of three-fourths of 1 percent. "The county does not agree that we have responsibility for these individuals," Ortwerth said. "We believe that if a municipality is going to choose to establish its own court system, adopt its own ordinances and impose offenses against what are city ordinances, the taxpayers in that community should be absorbing the financial cost of that additional level of government. …

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