Mayor says fees added to municipal citations help pay cost of housing inmatesBy:
Tim Ryan [email protected]
Shawano County’s plan to charge the city for housing municipal inmates at the jail for the first time since the municipal court was established in 2002 seems to be on track for implementation starting the first of next year, even though negotiations are said to be ongoing.
While the city is not disputing the costs the jail says it has incurred housing those inmates, Mayor Ed Whealon in an interview Thursday said there are already fees the city is paying to the county for those municipal citations that the county is not taking into account.
“For every municipal court ticket that police officers write or we issue, there is a jail assessment fee that is tacked on to every one of them, along with driver improvement charges, that go directly to the county,” Whealon said.
Last year, those additional assessments, as well an ignition interlock device surcharges in drunken driving cases, totaled $16,382 that was sent to the county, according to figures provided by the city.
County jail records show there were 574 overnight stays by municipal court inmates last year, costing the county $28,700 at $50 per inmate per night.
The county provided full-year records going back to 2013 for what it has cost the county to house municipal inmates. The total for those six years comes to $190,200.
City records show that jail assessment and other municipal citation charges paid to the county during those same six years totaled $82,906.
“They’ve never given us any credit for any of the fees we do turn over to them,” Whealon said.
Whealon also said the county is not considering the kind of expenses that would be incurred if municipal court did not exist.
“We’d flood Shawano County and the jail with prisoners that they would ultimately be responsible for,” he said. “Having a municipal court takes a huge workload and issues off of their plate that are taken care of at municipal court level.”
Those cases would otherwise have to be dealt with in circuit court at the county’s expense, Whealon said.
The fees being proposed by the county would apply only to inmates incarcerated for municipal violations, not anyone arrested in the city for state or federal crimes.
According to Police Chief Dan Mauel, people are not sent to jail for a municipal citation by itself.
However, if the person does not pay the fine imposed by the municipal court, the judge can sign a warrant, or an arrest and commitment order, after which the person then can be arrested and lodged in county jail.
The time spent in jail would depend on the amount owed.
Not all unpaid municipal fines are subject to possible jail time.
Municipal Court Clerk Tomina Marquardt said traffic offenses like speeding and seatbelt violations can lead to a driver’s license being revoked, but not jail time.
Regarding the county’s plan to also charge for medical costs, Marquardt said the court has a policy in place prohibiting people with medical needs from being incarcerated.
“If there’s a medical problem, they’re not held,” she said. “They get out and back on a payment plan.”
Whealon said the municipal court makes every effort to collect on fines before jail is imposed, including offering payment plans.
“We do tax intercepts. We do private collection agencies. We use the state tax collection service. We take all those measures before we ever get to the point where somebody is incarcerated,” he said. “Jail has always been the last resort, the very last resort.”
The municipal court was established in 2002.
In 2007, former sheriff Randy Wright and Whealon, who was police chief at the time, came to an agreement that the sheriff’s department would use the municipal gun range at no cost in exchange for housing municipal court prisoners.
The agreement was ratified by the County Board that same year.
Previous to that, the county had never charged the city for housing those inmates.
Whealon said there was no indication given that the county wanted to change that agreement until the city received a letter from County Corporation Counsel Tony Kordus on Feb. 14 informing the city that the county planned to start charging those fees on April 1.
In the letter, provided to the Leader by the city, Kordus cites state statutes allowing counties to assess such fees and notes the previous agreement regarding use of the gun range in lieu of payment.
Kordus wrote that the agreement has “long since expired,” while the city’s use of the jail for municipal offenders has increased dramatically.
“Therefore, it is time to reach a new understanding for compensating Shawano County for this service,” Kordus wrote.
The letter goes on to outline the $50 per night fee per inmate the county intended to begin assessing, as well as charging for any medical costs.
City Administrator Eddie Sheppard responded with a letter on March 4, and also referenced a phone conversation that had occurred in the interim, in which the city acknowledged that the county wanted to “move on” from the previous agreement and was moving forward with the understanding that the new fees would be initiated on April 1.
“It is further understood that effective April 1, 2019, Shawano County will no longer be authorized to use the city’s shooting range and will make arrangements to utilize other facilities for firearms training moving forward,” Sheppard wrote.
“While we find the news of your request to move forward in this direction disappointing, you have made your request clear and we will honor the terms as requested,” Sheppard added.
The April 1 implementation date for the fees was pushed off by the county to Jan. 1 of next year after the city expressed concerns that such fees were not included in the city’s 2019 budget.
The city also offered to allow continued use of the gun range by the sheriff”s department for the same time period, according to Whealon.
Whealon disputed comments made by Sheriff Adam Bieber in an interview Wednesday that the sheriff’s department had been banned from use of the gun range.
“We didn’t kick them out of the range. That was in the letter saying this agreement is going to be null and void April 1. So we said, OK, here’s part of the agreement, your use of the range,’” Whealon said. “They made a decision to go out and pay $1,000 a year to the Shawano Gun Club. We didn’t kick them out. They left on their own.”