By CHRIS MENEES
Plans have shifted into high gear for Obion County to offer its own driving school for traffic offenders as a way to bring in more revenue.
The Obion County Budget Committee voted Monday morning to send a resolution on a county-operated driving school to the full county commission for a vote.
The commission will next meet May 20 at 9 a.m. at the Obion County Courthouse.
The resolution will include a recommendation to set the driving school fee at $80, the same amount currently being charged by the firm which provides the service. Under the current program, the county receives $45 and the firm receives $35 of that fee.
The possibility of the county operating its own driving school to generate more revenue was mentioned last month when the budget committee met for its first budget hearing of the next fiscal year. The committee voted for a trio of funding options to be studied — the driving school, as well as a county-operated probation program and the return of the jail litigation tax for jail and courthouse improvements.
Obion County Mayor Benny McGuire presented the budget committee with a proposal for a county-operated driving school during its regular session Monday. Much of the information was provided by Sheriff Jerry Vastbinder and Obion County Circuit Court Clerk Harry Johnson, who have worked out details regarding having a trained instructor and labor for the school.
According to Johnson’s statistics from the past three years, the driving school averaged about 62 attendees per month in the 2010-11 fiscal year. There were a total of 600 attendees, or about 50 per month, for the 2011-12 fiscal year. So far this year, the average has been running close to 70 per month, with a couple months remaining.
Based on those figures, with the county currently receiving $45 per attendee, the driving school generated about $27,000 the last fiscal year.
With the number of attendees currently running about 70 per month, budget committee chairman Jerry Grady said Obion County would get roughly $6,000 per month if it operates its own school at the $80 rate. The only expense would be the employees operating and staffing the school the night of class.
Johnson said there are usually one or two driving schools held monthly in Obion County, depending on the number of offenders, and he said the capacity of each school would be about 50 to 60 students.
As the budget committee weighed other funding options Monday, talk shifted to discussion about uncollected court fines and what can be done. The county commissioners learned it is a problem statewide.
Vastbinder said Weakley County General Sessions Judge Tommy Moore has been very successful with a reporting system he implemented to track defendants’ progress on paying their fines and he said Obion County General Sessions Judge Jimmy Smith is now doing the same thing, patterned after Moore’s system.
Commissioner Richard Arnold suggested perhaps allowing defendants to provide free labor for the county in exchange for credit toward their unpaid fines and the budget committee voted to send a letter to Smith asking for his help.
In a related matter, the budget committee also voted to send to the full commission a resolution to increase the court costs for courthouse security from $20 to $25. The tax increase would have to be approved by a two-thirds vote.
“It seems awful, but we have to do this to protect the innocent people,” Grady said. “The one that’s violating the law needs to have to pay it. They should be paying it.”
The budget committee also approved sending a resolution to the full county commission to consider reinstating the litigation tax, or jail tax.
The litigation tax was adopted by the county commission in September 2000 specifically for jail or workhouse construction, upgrades or debt retirement. It set a tax of $10 per case on litigation in all civil and criminal cases instituted in the county, other than those instituted in municipal courts, to help pay for the Obion County Law Enforcement Complex opened in November 1998. The jail note was paid in full May 1, 2012, but budget committee members have since discussed the need for the tax to be reinstated to help fund jail and courthouse improvements.
McGuire said there are several projects at the jail and courthouse where the litigation tax funds could be utilized for upgrades.
In a final matter pertaining to courts and fines, the budget committee heard a proposal from Johnson about the addition of a collection person to the court’s staff. He said he would like to try out the collection person for a year to test the effectiveness and he will put the cost — a total salary and benefits package of just under $30,000 annually — in his proposed budget for the next fiscal year.
The collection person would identify outstanding money in the court system and collect that money. They would go to court and obtain personal information about defendants in order to track them, as well as set a method of payment and perform other duties to aid in collection of fines.
The collection person would coordinate with probation and the private collection agency used by the court, as well as the Department of Safety on suspension of driver’s licenses for unpaid fines and court costs.
In the past, defendants were allowed to pay court costs and fines when they met with their probation officer, but Johnson said as of May 1, it was implemented where they pay directly at the court clerk’s office and receive a receipt to take to their probation officer — with all money collected through the clerk’s office.
“We’ve got to do something to assist the collecting of these fines,” commissioner Donnie Braswell said.
In other action during Monday morning’s 75-minute meeting, opened with prayer led by commissioner Terry Roberts, the budget committee:
• Was informed the budget committee will meet May 14 at 5 p.m. at the courthouse to continue work on the county’s 2013-14 fiscal year budget.
• Received information from Bedford Dunavant, chairman of the Union City Industrial Development Board, concerning why abatement reports from some entities are not filed with the county.
• Voted to send to the full county commission resolutions to amend the General Purpose School Fund and for the transfer of budget items from one category to another by the sheriff in the General Fund.
• OK’d sending a resolution to authorize an application for a litter and trash collection grant to the 2013-14 fiscal year to the full commission.
• Approved sending to the full commission a resolution to adopt a continuing budget and tax rate for the fiscal year beginning July 1 until a new budget is adopted for the 2013-14 fiscal year.
• OK’d in-house budget transfer requests from administrator of elections Leigh Schlager, Vastbinder, solid waste director Mike Cary and Johnson.
• Voted to send to the full commission a request from trustee Lori Seals to release the delinquent taxes for 2011.
• Agreed placing appointments to several boards and committees and notary public applications on the agenda for the May 20 county commission meeting.
• Learned the spec building note is due May 21 and voted for the finance committee to discuss the matter and bring it before the county commission.
• Postponed action on two agenda items — a report on an energy/lighting grant proposal for county government buildings and discussion of the Goodyear shooting range.
Budget committee members Danny Jowers and Sam Sinclair were absent.
Staff Reporter Chris Menees may be contacted by email at email@example.com.
Published in The Messenger 5.7.13