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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sedgwick County commissioners examine court fine increases

By Deb Gruver
The Wichita Eagle

Sedgwick County court fines could double — or increase even more — under a proposal commissioners discussed Tuesday.

County court is different from Sedgwick County District Court. County court handles code violations and traffic violations. The vast majority of offenses that go to county court are parking tickets issued to drivers near the downtown courthouse and jail, said county counselor Rich Euson.

Fines assessed in county court now range from $2 to $500 for a first offense, depending on the type of case. Under one proposal, all fines for first offenses would double except for offenses in which the fine is now $500.

The other proposal is to raise fines to be in line with Johnson County court fines, which are much higher.

Court costs in both counties are assessed on top of fines.

An example of an offense that comes with a $5 fine is an expired meter. Parking in a no-parking zone or in a crosswalk is punishable with a $10 fine.

Failure to appear in court after a legal notice draws a $15 fine.

Offenses that draw a $25 fine include not obtaining a vaccination for a dog or parking in a fire lane.

Offenses that draw a $50 fine include parking in a handicapped space, inhumane treatment of an animal and failure to obtain a building permit.

Illegal dumping comes with a $100 fine, as does animal cruelty and burning during a burn ban.

Driving a vehicle in the Big Ditch is punishable with a $500 fine, as is advertising as a licensed contractor without being licensed.

There were 1,508 fines assessed last year in Sedgwick County in 800 cases. Some cases included more than one offense and fine. If all fines had been paid, they would have brought in nearly $83,000 in revenue to the county. Johnson County’s fines, if all had been paid, would have brought in nearly $250,000 last year.

Sedgwick County’s anticipated revenue from fines last year was $67,603, based on a collection rate of 81 percent.

The county estimates it would have brought in almost $56,000 more last year, based on collection rates, if fines had been doubled — or almost $136,000 more last year if fines were increased to Johnson County’s levels.

Commissioners debated briefly whether county court is even necessary, but the majority agreed it was because most cases don’t belong in district court.

Public works director David Spears said county court has been beneficial in illegal dumping cases. There were two such cases in county court last year.

“It’s helped with trash in county ditches,” Spears told commissioners.

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com.

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