When 22 out of 25 cases on Arma’s municipal court docket were no-shows, council members decided to pursue tougher consequences for local infractions.
Council members were warned that enforcement will come at a cost, which could be high at first, as the city turns around a tradition of ignored court dates.
Mayor Buddy Bualle and City Attorney Rick Smith said they have been frustrated by a process that punishes no-shows with a slap on the wrist.
"If they don’t show up they get a 30-day letter, but sometimes those 30-day letters keep getting repeated," Bualle said.
Many people get the letters and ignore them, refusing to pay the fines or return to court, Smith said.
"What we’ve been hesitant to do in the past is regularly issue bench warrants," he said, adding that the cost of putting an individual behind bars can be significant.
When the cash bond is set at the cost of the city fine, it can leave taxpayers holding a bill much larger than the original infraction fine.
Yet, Bualle said, enforcement has to come with teeth.
"I’m willing to incur the cost of the bench warrants because I think we’ve got people who are just choosing not to pay it because there’s no consequence," Bualle said. "If people fail to appear when they’re supposed to appear, to me that’s disrespectful to law enforcement."
Smith added that other communities do add the cost of paperwork, jail time and medical expenses to bonds, although the city would still pay for officer time to transport the individual, and could be left holding other bills.
"You need to understand there will be a cost, and probably the cost will be greater when you first initiate it," Bualle said. "Once everybody understands that we’re not just giving lip service and actually following through, they’re probably going to show up."
Council members unanimously agreed to pursue tougher enforcement.
In other business:
• A dedicated codes enforcement officer role was rejected due to cost.
Police Chief Jeremy Allen said he would assign that role to an evening shift officer who could carry it out at a time when residents tended to be home and also would provide more uniform enforcement.
Allen requested a pay increase for the individual, who would incur more paperwork, follow-up and workload, and council members expressed misgivings.
The council instead agreed to have the police department carry out enforcement as a whole.
• Preliminary covenants for the Westland Acres subdivision were reviewed, but only written for single-family housing. Council members approved the covenants as written, but will later determine which lots will be covered, versus which lots will be reserved for multi-family housing or commercial construction.
• Council members approved the 2015 budget with a flat mill levy and received an audit report with no statute violations for the 2013 budget.
• Also approved were a conditional use permit for Lynsay Arkeketa to operate a daycare facility, hiring of an emergency part-time electrician and a beer license for the American Legion during Homecoming weekend.