By MICHAEL KRANSZ
Capital News Service
LANSING — A Michigan Supreme Court decision cutting a major source of funding for local courts could cost some counties more than $1 million, unless the Legislature reinstates their ability to assess court costs in criminal cases.
The decision struck down a long-standing practice that reduced local courts’ reliance on taxpayers after the Supreme Court concluded that they lack the legal authority to collect the money.
The estimated yearly loss ranges from $1.5 million in Berrien County to $45,000 in Missaukee County, according to the Michigan Association of Counties.
Manistee County Treasurer Russell Pomeroy said the loss of funding places him, and other local officials, in uncertainty as they reconfigure their budgets and wait for legislative action.
“We’re just hoping that the Legislature will come up with some sort of fix because that’s a large hit for us to take all in one year,” Pomeroy said.
For the upcoming budget year that begins on Oct. 1, Pomeroy said his county anticipates a 50 percent drop in court revenue, resulting in an expected $200,000 loss.
To balance the budget, Manistee County “reduced expenses across the board,” including withholding raises for employees and reducing health insurance benefits, Pomeroy said.
“Two hundred thousand dollars is a lot to a small county like Manistee County,” he said.
Rep. John Walsh, R-Livonia, has told the House Judiciary Committee that a bill he is sponsoring would return counties and local courts to the “status quo” by legalizing the assessment practice in criminal cases.
“This is not a perfect solution,” Walsh said at a hearing. “This is an immediate solution.”
Association Governmental Affairs Associate Dana Gill said if the bill doesn’t pass, there are three options to fill the funding gap: increase taxes, cut programs or seek state funding.
“If we can’t come to a comprehensive decision on funding, local governments are left holding the bag,” Gill said.
The bill co-sponsors are Reps. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, and Bill Rogers, R-Brighton.
The committee voted to send the bill to the full House.
Resources for editors:
People vs. Cunningham Supreme Court decision