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Stow City Council adds $45,000 to Stow Municipal Court clerk's budget

by Jeff Saunders | reporter Published: August 18, 2016 12:51 PM
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Stow -- The Stow Municipal Court clerk of court's office has received a budget increase, but not without some opposition.

Stow City Council approved an ordinance 5-2 on Aug. 11, increasing this year's clerk's budget by $45,000, from just under $1.28 million to nearly $1.33 million.

The action follows Council's approval of the overall city budget last March, which included a $100,000 increase in the clerk's office over 2015's budget. The clerk's office had requested $170,000 more at that time

During Council's Aug. 11 finance committee meeting, before the Council meeting, Clerk of Courts Diana Colavecchio said she is asking for more money to fill a projected $40,000 budget deficit in this year's budget, with a little more to be safe.

"I will keep to the [$40,000], if at all possible," she said.

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Colavecchio said that between taking office at the beginning of the year and March, when she made her previous appeal for a budget increase, the clerk's office added three full-time employees and one part-timer.

"So I did some hiring," she said.

She said she did this because the office was understaffed and employees had accumulated some 700 hours in comp time and were behind in paperwork.

"We were behind the eight ball," she said.

Since March, she said, the office has caught up on paperwork and cut two full-time staffers through attrition. This includes the clerk's information technology director leaving and the clerk's office sharing IT services with the court, a move that has saved about $20,000, said Colavecchio.

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Through July, she said, the clerk's office has sent about $1.46 million in revenue to the city, which as the court's host city, is required to provide financial services to the court.

"That's a 1 percent increase over this time last year," she said, adding that "Our case loads are up 1,400 this year. What that says to you is we're busy, we have a lot going on over there."

Colavecchio said the clerk's office is working on a multi-phase project to upgrade its computer software system that will make it easier to send unpaid fines and court costs to "collections."

"There's millions of dollars out there in unpaid debt," she said, adding she expects the upgrades to be completed by the end of the year.

She said software improvements will decrease staffing needs next year and are also allowing the court to put "blocks" on vehicle registrations until the money is paid.

"That's bringing people through the door [to pay their fines]," she said.

Council President Mike Rasor and Councilor Brian Lowdermilk voted against the ordinance. Lowdermilk said he appreciated the efforts of the clerk's office, but with Council considering a new stormwater fee for property owners and approving some needed equipment purchases for the police department, he cannot vote for an increase to the clerk's budget at this time.

Rasor said on his blog that he believes the original budget increase was sufficient.

As host city, Stow is required under state law to provide financial services to the city. Finance Director John Baranek told the Stow Sentry Aug. 17 that revenue the court takes in through such sources as court costs are sent to the city after the court pays a share of fines, billed under local statutes, to the 15 other communities within the court's jurisdiction. These include Boston Heights, Boston Township, Cuyahoga Falls, Hudson, Macedonia, Munroe Falls, Northfield, Northfield Center Township, Peninsula, Reminderville, Sagamore Hills, Silver Lake, Tallmadge, Twinsburg and Twinsburg Township.

Fines taken in under state law are sent to the state, said Baranek.

Baranek said that after the court disburses this fine revenue, nearly $2.13 million is projected to go to Stow for this year, while a little under $2.16 million came in last year. Out of this money, court expenditures are paid, projected at about $2.79 million this year, up from about $2.55 million in 2015.

Baranek said that "deficits" between revenue sent to the city and expenditures paid is made up by the court out of "special projects funds" that are funded through certain types of fines and probation costs. Under state law, the city has no access to this money.

"It's actually done under the judge's control," said Baranek.

Baranek said the revenue sent to the city also is where the city gets its share of fines. The city received $174,380.51 in 2015 and is budgeted to receive $172,000 this year, money that goes into the city's general fund and can be used for a variety of purposes, including offsetting police department costs.

"When looking at our budget amounts, we are always conservative on our estimates, especially when revenues are based on a variable such as tickets written since they could go down or up," said Baranek.

Email: jsaunders@recordpub.com

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