By Ryan Lewis
JASPER, Tenn. -- When the state started requiring a litigation tax of $13.75 for municipal court costs last year, Jasper officials raised the rates.
Now, the state has mandated the fee be added for offenders who pay their fines without going to court, officials said.
Jasper Police Chief Tim Graham said the tax covers the costs for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's crime lab.
"When the state got into this budget crunch, they were talking about having to cut funding to the TBI crime lab," City Attorney Mark Raines said. "Instead of cutting funding or the state getting this money somewhere else, they picked on the municipal courts because, frankly, there are a lot more municipal courts than any other court in the state of Tennessee."
Before the law came into effect, Raines said, the city didn't have to send the $13.75 tax to the state if the offender didn't go to court.
"Now, it doesn't matter whether it's litigated or not," he said. "Basically, any citation that comes through that's not dismissed, [the town] has to send this $13.75 into the state."
Currently, Jasper police officers just write the amounts of the fines on citations they issue, Graham said, and that's a cause of concern.
"What I don't want is when someone comes in to pay the ticket, and they are told it is $13.75 more than what the officer told them," he said.
In recent years, Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers have stopped writing the fine amounts on the backs of citations because the fines have changed so much "they don't really know how much it's going to be," Raines said.
Officials said Jasper does not have the personnel to take phone calls about the amounts of fines before court, so officers now will include the litigation tax on tickets.
"When the police officer issues the ticket, they're going to add in the $13.75 to the amount," Raines said. "That way, if they [offenders] pay it by mail, it's covered. If they come to court, it's already covered there."
Mayor Billy Simpson said there's little the town can do because the tax is mandated by state law.
"This is the state's call," he said. "We have no choice in it. It's got to be done."
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryan firstname.lastname@example.org.