County asks for legislation, new fees

Published 1:23 am Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Covington County commissioners on Tuesday passed resolutions requesting local legislation adding fees for law enforcement services, but stopped short of earmarking those funds for law enforcement.

Commissioners have been asking for local legislation that would generate revenue for law enforcement, including fees for deputies serving civil and criminal papers, as well as a booking fee assessed against those arrested and booked into the county jail.

The resolutions ask Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, and Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Elba, to sponsor local bills in the state legislation authorizing the new fees.

Specifically, the resolutions ask for a processing fee of $30 per document for criminal and civil papers served by deputies, and a $50 per document fee for paper served for out-of-state courts. The requested legislation would include an opt-out clause that allows an attorney to use a private processor to serve papers, as opposed to having them served by the sheriff’s department. The district attorney’s office and the probate court will be exempt.

The funds, which will be collected by the circuit clerk’s office, would go into the county’s general fund.

The second piece of requested legislation would assess a $40 booking fee on those who are booked into the county jail and later found guilty. Commissioners debated whether the proposed fee should be collected on the front end, before a person bonds out of jail, or assessed by the court after a person is found guilty.

“You feel for somebody going in, but I understand how hard it is to collect afterward,” Commissioner Tony Holmes said.

Commissioner Joe Barton was in favor of collecting the fee at the jail.

“You do know, with this court system we’ve got, we gone be waiting.”

Sheriff Dennis Meeks said also wanted the fee on the front end.

“If you don’t, everything else is gonna get there first. If we don’t, we need to put wording in there that this booking fee gets paid,” he said.

Meeks also pointed out that many people who are arrested from out of state don’t come back to deal with their charges.

“They get a FTA (failure to appear) warrant put on them, but the chances are you will never see them,” he said.

Greg White said he has a real concern about the potential hardships assessin the fee might cause. He used the example of a young man who was recently arrested at a roadblock because he had an outstanding traffic ticket of $200, back child support of approximately, and outstanding fees and court costs of more than $800.

“For him to get out, he has to cover all of that,” White said. “We’re talking about adding $40 to that … It’s a hardship to me, not sure we want to do that.”

White also asked if booking someone into jail means additional revenue, would officers then book someone who might otherwise have been written a citation and sent on their way.

Meeks responded testily, “Now you’re trying to make it look like law enforcement is crooked. We’re not gonna arrest someone on a citation just so we can get a booking fee.”

Barton also advocated writing the legislation to allow jail administrators to take funds from money inmates have “on the books” for snacks and supplies.

“They stay in there, the sheriff feeds them and all of that, and they get money back. These people did something wrong to get in the jail,” Barton said. “We need to get paid, just like court system’s gonna get theirs.”

County attorney Stephanie Cotton recommended assessing the fee upon conviction, based on similar legislation in Cherokee, Morgan, Etowah, and Montgomery counties in Alabama, and upon a case pending before the Supreme Court.

Barton said, “If you can get drunk or buy dope, you can pay for this.”

Commissioners agreed to ask for legislation setting a $40 booking fee, assessed upon conviction, with no hardship waivers. The monies, when collected, will go to the county’s general fund.

Commissioners also asked that the sheriff’s department be allowed to withhold the funds from an inmate’s account at his discretion. In the event he did, the funds would need to be forwarded to the circuit clerk’s office.

White said he doesn’t believe there is time to get the requested legislation written, advertised and through the legislature in the 2017 regular session.