Clerk: City Paying Fair Share For Court

Batesville city officials say the city is paying its fair share for district court, disputing statements made by Independence County Judge Robert Griffin regarding the district court funds.

An article in Wednesday’s Guard entitled “City gets paid while county foots bills” by Donetta Hubbard has drawn fire from city Clerk/Treasurer Denise Johnston. “When I read the article I was shocked at the amount of incorrect data, then angry, that the Guard did not bother to contact the city to verify the information before it was published.”

Johnston, who started with the city in 1991, explained that today’s district court is much different from the old municipal court. In the 1990s, the court clerk would send all of the cities throughout the county their fine monies collected through the court, as well as a bill for each city’s share of the cost to operate the court.

But when the state changed that system to district courts, it also changed the way court fines were distributed.

“Judge Griffin was quoted as saying the city is getting twice as much money from the district court as the county,” but she said that statement “is blatantly false.”

“Yes, the city receives a check that is more than the county’s but what he was told by the district court personnel, but failed to tell the Guard, is that the city is only allowed to keep about 30 percent of the check while the remaining 70 percent must be sent to the Arkansas State Department of Finance & Administration (DFA).”

Griffin also stated that the city receives about $450,000 yearly from court costs collected from defendants.

“Again, not true,” Johnston said. “DFA gets all of the court costs except $117,840. From that amount the city keeps $34,574 and sends the county the balance of $83,265.”

She also said the city and the county pay the exact same amount to the state for the district judge’s salary, as Chaney Taylor is a state employee and the majority of his salary is paid by the state.

“Lastly, the city pays the county every month for a portion of the court expenses,” she continued. “It is my understanding that Batesville is the only city or town that is being billed for court expenses — even though all cities and towns in the county use the court and receive fine monies.

“The judge said the city had a $340,000 ‘windfall’ while the county has a net loss of $190,000. Yet again, the judge needs to check his math. In 2012, the city had a net gain of approximately $75,000, far less than the $340,000 alleged by the judge. I called the county treasurer and according to the figures he sent me, the county in 2012 had a net gain of $222,516.05, far more than the loss the judge alleges.”

She said she understands the county is struggling to balance its budget, as is every city and county in the state, but the county’s budget shortfall is not the fault of the city of Batesville. “In my 23 years with the city, I have never seen such a twisted attempt, with inaccurate information, to make it appear that the city is the cause for the county’s financial problems.”