In previous posts, we have discussed the problem of small Saint Louis County cities supporting themselves through fines and fees, essentially using the police and courts as revenue generators. A report released by Better Together shows the scale of the problem. Twenty municipalities, mostly in North Saint Louis County, generate more than 20 percent of their total revenue from fines and fees.
The largest portion of these fines usually comes from traffic violations and related penalties. But a state law, known as the Macks Creek law, is supposed to cap traffic fines to 30 percent of a municipality’s operating revenue. Fines in excess of 30 percent are to be redirected to schools, and failure to comply can result in suspension of local traffic jurisdiction. While this cap should arguably be lower, the state should first enforce the cap that already exists. But proper enforcement within Saint Louis County may be lacking.
As the chart above demonstrates, eight municipalities within Saint Louis County collect more than 30 percent of their revenue from fines, and in some cases much more. These cities may not be in violation of the Macks Creek law if much of their fine revenue is from non-traffic-related citations. However, all eight cities are home to notorious speed traps and have small populations from which to generate non-traffic citations. For instance, Calverton Park, Bella Villa, and Pine Lawn would need to issue more than $200 of non-traffic-related fines per resident in order to comply with the Macks Creek law. That seems unlikely.
That is perhaps why Bella Villa, Pine Lawn, and Saint Ann (along with Ferguson and six municipalities outside of Saint Louis County) are having their municipal courts audited by the state to ensure that they are “about justice and not revenue.” That may be a hard case for those cities to make.