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  • Law changes will help with justice court funding

  • State legislation that was draining funds from Jackson County's Justice Court and could have closed the operation likely will be reversed by a new bill that is on its way to Gov. John Kitzhaber's desk.
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  • State legislation that was draining funds from Jackson County's Justice Court and could have closed the operation likely will be reversed by a new bill that is on its way to Gov. John Kitzhaber's desk.
    House Bill 2562, passed during the recently ended legislative session, will reduce will reduce the amount the state collects on traffic citations, to $44 from $60. Additionally, $16 from each fine will be paid back to the county to help pay for drug and alcohol programs, and juvenile and adult corrections programs, funding that was eliminated in previous legislation.
    The changes will restore funding that was lost when state law divvying up traffic fines was revised in 2011.
    "It just brought it back to the way it was," said Jackson County Administrator Danny Jordan.
    The 2011 revision set out in House Bill 2712 went into effect Jan. 1, 2012. It eliminated surcharges on traffic citations, dollars that funded Justice Court operations. It also bumped the state's portion up to $60 and reduced fine amounts.
    A Class C violation, for example — which is the most common type of traffic ticket — used to be $190, with $45 going to the state. That fine dropped to $160, leaving the county with $45 less per violation than before.
    Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, and Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, had said HB 2712's original intent was to streamline how various levels of government shared proceeds from traffic citations, and that changes could be made if the outcome proved detrimental.
    "They had said after 2712 that if this made some impacts that weren't anticipated, they'd come back and fix it," Jordan said.
    Buckley, who chairs the state's Ways and Means Committee, could not immediately be reached for comment today.
    The bill's passage did have an effect, with an estimated revenue drop of between $500,000 and $750,000 for the 2012-13 fiscal year for the Justice Court.
    "All of 2012 was the worst year in the last five years," Judge Joe Charter said of the Justice Court's dip in revenue.
    He added that similar operations in other counties felt the impacts, too.
    "We could see their revenues were off by 15 to 30 percent," Charter said.
    For Jackson County, the declining revenues also meant a potential shutdown of the Sheriff's Department traffic team. Originally created in 2004, the eight-deputy team was organized in response to Jackson County's 45 recorded traffic-related deaths for that year, which was the second-highest number statewide. Three years later, that number dropped to 15.
    "It's important that (we're) able to continue those functions," said Jackson County Commission Chairman Don Skundrick.
    — Ryan Pfeil
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