June 4, 2018
Drivers are no longer the only people that need to watch out for overzealous small cities seeking to raise money instead of raising taxes. Now homeowners are being aggressively targeted to pay fines related to housing violations.
Apparently, the use of traffic violations is not the only way small cities are raising money to run their towns. A recent trend, especially in the St. Louis region since the post-Ferguson Court Reform that capped the amount of revenue raised from traffic tickets, is for cities to pursue neighborhood ordinance nuisance violations.
What we saw in the St. Louis metro area since post Ferguson also takes place around the country. New stats compiled shows that many cities are using these tactics to raise money and that several St. Louis area municipals remain among the top practitioners.
Cash-strapped towns and cities across the nation don’t want to raise taxes to pay the costs of running their cities. Instead, they are using their nuisance laws — with fines and fees for minor traffic violations and violations of local housing codes — to balance their budgets.
For example, in Mountain View, Colorado – a town of around 500 people — made $621,099 in citation revenue in 2013, almost half its annual budget. Several other small Colorado towns in 2015 made more than 30 percent of their revenue from issuing traffic tickets.
The Institute for Justice has filed lawsuits around the country taking on these practices. One lawsuit in Pagedale, Missouri (a town of 3,300), notes that some 1,336 tickets were issued to 896 individuals for housing violations between a seven-year period (January 2010-September 2017). That would mean 39 percent of the city’s adult population was cited.
Violations could include failure to “neatly” hang drapes or curtains; small tears in screen doors; hosting a barbecue in front yards; failure to keep beer away from the grill; etc. A consent decree was negotiated recently that settles the case. The settlement includes reforms on how the City identifies, tickets, and tries those accused of violating its municipal code.
Below is a list of several jurisdictions that heavily rely upon the use of fines and fees to raise revenues. Many of this are right here in Missouri. Statistics were gathered from a 2012 analysis of cities by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 2017. Here’s an excellent article on that best explains and breaks down this trend towards taxation by ticket.
Dependent Cities using fines and fees to raise revenue
CITY STATE FINES AS PERCENT OF REVENUE
Saint Ann Missouri 30.40%
North Hills New York 25.60%
Clarkston Georgia 24.40%
Morrow Georgia 22.70%
Stone Mountain Georgia 22.10%
Doraville Georgia 20.60%
Cedarhurst New York 18.80%
Riverdale Georgie 18.70%
St. Johns Missouri 18.00%
Willow Springs Illinois 17.10%
Great Neck Plaza New York 15.80%
Riverdale Dark Maryland 15.70%
Sunset Utah 14.50%
Oakland Tennessee 14.50%
Bellafontaine Neighbors Missouri 14.40%
Millersville Tennessee 14%
College Park Maryland 13.60%
Ferguson Missouri 12.90%
Lake Dallas Texas 12.80%
Maryland Heights Missouri 12.60%
Snellville Georgia 12.40%
Gretna Louisiana 12.20%
Dardenne Prairie Missouri 11.90%
Laurel Maryland 11.80% $66,355 7.80% 29.50%
Los Fresnos Texas 11.50% $39,149 33.10% 1.20%
U.S. AVERAGE 1.40% $54,651 15.60% 78.30%