CLAYTON, Mo. (KMOV.com) – Dustin Theabeu walked out of the South Division of St. Louis County traffic court Tuesday night with $325 less in his pocket.
“It’s tough but I have to pay it,” said Theabeu who lives in Granite City, Illinois.
Theabeu was in court to pay for two failure to appear fines related to an old speeding ticket. Each fine was $100, but he also had to pay another $135 in court cost fees.
“There could be your fine but then there could be six added line items that end up adding up to $30, $40 $50 dollars so I think people are frustrated,” explained Dave Leipholtz, with Better Together St. Louis
Better Together just released a study on municipal courts in the area. The study found many issues with the way court fines and fees are assessed.
News 4 obtained a breakdown of the court costs for St. Louis County.
In a ticket for “littering from a vehicle,” the fine is $137.50. But in addition to that fine there are $62.50 in added fees.
Some of those fees include:
“People are very supportive of the causes but again, it’s more the mechanics of it and the procedure that leaves them feeling like they're kind of being taxed,” said Leipholtz.
Theabeau says he doesn’t mind paying for things related to his ticket, but says something things just don’t make sense. Leipholtz said Better Together found a similar reaction during their research.
“The idea of paying for someone’s retirement because you got pulled over was really what kind of blew people’s minds,” he said.
The St. Louis County Counselor explained where the fees come from.
“The [County] Council has passed all the different costs and have found them appropriate, but the genesis was in state law,” explained Pat Redington.
Many of the fines have been in place for more than a decade. They are listed out in the county code, but News 4 found most people paying tickets had no idea where their money was going.
County Executive Charlie Dooley has proposed doing away with one of the fees, a $25 dollar court cost fee that goes towards St. Louis County’s general fund.
“It doesn’t go to a particular fund so no one is going to say ‘wait a minute we’re losing our $1 security fee or our $2 officer training fee,’ so yes, we feel that is something we have the discretion to eliminate,” explained Redington.
She did not know whether the county has the discretion to do away with some of the other fines since they originated from state statutes. The types of fees and the amount vary across municipalities, but many of them are the same across the board.
“The question is, why aren't these things spread, if they’re really for a public good or a public program, why aren't they spread across everyone, as opposed to being just tacked on to fines?” asked Leipholtz.
Redington says the municipal fine system as a whole is something officials are interested in reviewing.
“I think we’re interested in looking at all of them, that was the easiest one to look at because it only affects county government’s internal operations and it doesn’t jeopardize any other use or fund that the general assembly decided need that money,” said Redington. “So yes I think this is a good time to review not only our court costs but the municipal courts as well.”