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Passage of SB5 could cost small cities sizable traffic ticket revenue

Some local municipal officials are worried about the impact of legislation that could reduce the percentage of general revenue that they can receive from traffic tickets.

If passed, Senate Bill 5, an update of the state’s “Macks Creek Law,” would cut the percentage of revenue a city can receive from traffic tickets from 30 percent to 10 percent by 2017. The percentage applies to general operating revenue in a city’s budget, which pays for most city services.

If approved in its present form, the percentage would be phased in over two years – dropping to 20 percent on Jan. 1, 2016, and to 10 percent on Jan. 1, 2017. Ticket revenues above 10 percent would go to the state, which would distribute them to local schools.

The bill was passed by the Senate in February and has moved on to the Missouri House for consideration. Its sponsor, Sen. Eric Schmitt (R- District 15), has said the courts raise distrust between residents and the justice system. But Weldon Spring City Administrator Michael Padella said the bill negatively affects that city.

“If passed it will negatively impact our general revenue fund,” said Padella. He said the city gets 17 percent of its revenue from traffic tickets, adding that percentage doesn’t come from a large number of traffic tickets but reflects a small municipal budget.

“According to our budget it would deduct approximately $34,000 which would have to be turned over to the state,” Padella said. “That’s a lot of money for a municipality with a $500,000 budget.”

Cottleville Mayor Jim Hennessey said one of the issues with SB5 is how “general revenue” will be defined.

“Does it include things like grants, park fees, waste hauling fees and special tax funds?”  Hennessey asked. “The percentage of revenue that Cottleville derives from its traffic tickets would fluctuate wildly based on this answer.”

Hennessey said the first thing to be done – other than kill the bill altogether – is to eliminate its ambiguity.

“Then and only then can each municipality figure out the impact it is going to have on our budgets,” Hennessey said.

Since 2009, the average income from traffic tickets in Cottleville has been between 9 and 16 percent of its budget.

“In the year (when) we were close to 16 percent, Cottleville would have had to forfeit over $100,000 to the state,” Hennessey said. “To a small city like ours this would be devastating. If the idea behind the bill is to eliminate those cities who only survive by giving tickets, I get it. However I’m not sure the legislature has factored in the collateral damage to cities like Cottleville, which is by no means a ‘ticket factory.’”

Hennessey said on average Cottleville police issue around 130 tickets per month, or 1 to 2 tickets per shift.

“If this bill were to pass through the House, it would have meant forfeiting approximately $400,000 over the past six years,” Hennessey said. “For a small city like Cottleville, we would either have to raise taxes or eliminate essential city services.”

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[Amy Armour contributed to this article.]

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