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Thursday, August 06, 2015

Ind. Gov't. - "Lake County city, town courts dispense civility, take in $33.8 million"

Lake County city and town courts are the focus of this story today by Bill Dolan of the NWI Times. Some quotes:

Indiana had 44 city and 25 town courts dealing primarily with traffic and local ordinance violations, infractions and misdemeanors, such as drunken driving.

The 2013 Indiana Judicial Service report indicates the municipal courts cost a combined $14.4 million to operate and generated nearly $33.8 million in revenue from court-ordered fees. The state kept 53 percent of the revenue, the county 18 percent and the local communities nearly 29 percent.

Those in Lake County include Crown Point, East Chicago, Gary, Hammond, Hobart, Lake Station, Lowell, Merrillville, Schererville and Whiting.

Their judicial salaries and benefits added up to nearly $600,000 last year with judges in Hammond, Gary and East Chicago earning the top compensation, set by town and city councils.

Lake County's municipal judges were among the best paid in the state last year, according to a Times survey of state and local records.

City judges were paid an average salary of $51,471. That includes Hammond City Judge Jeffrey A. Harkin, fourth in the state, receiving $80,377; Gary's Deidre L. Monroe, fifth, receiving $70,000; and East Chicago City Judge Sonya A. Morris, eighth, at $60,962.

Town judges were paid an average salary of $33,128, including Merrillville Town Judge Gina L. Jones, who was 13th statewide at $45,500, and Schererville Town Judge Kenneth Anderson, who was 18th at $37,492.

The municipal judicial salary across the state ranged from $108,766 in Carmel down to $2,500 in Delphi. The average salary for a Hoosier city judge was $35,000; the average town judge was paid about $26,000.

All city courts can hear civil disputes that don't exceed $500; in Lake County's four largest cities, however, the city courts' civil jurisdiction extends to disputes involving up to $3,000. Town courts have exclusive jurisdiction over all violations of town ordinances.

The voters of the city or town elect these city and town municipal judges to four-year terms. Candidates for municipal judge in Lake County all must be attorneys.

"When you look around countywide there may be some financial irresponsibility in terms of some courts ... spending too much," said Christopher A. Anderson, who was Lake Station city judge until he resigned this spring for his campaign to become mayor. "There have been issues here in Lake Station and a political agenda to abolish our court, but a lot of residents voiced their concerns to support us. There are a lot of intangible benefits. It's worth it."

Schererville Town Judge Kenneth Anderson said other local officials and the public want courts "to be financially productive," but the results are hard to measure, he said.

Sometimes, it includes requiring offenders to do community service.

"Like helping set up the corn roast; that benefits the park department, but what is its value?"

He said many small claims courts do "a fantastic job" for communities.

Those courts also "provide the opportunity for neighbors to square off and tell their stories and blow off steam, and (prevent) physical fights and police involvement over a boundary dispute or someone's tree."

"How do you put a price on the benefit of neighbors not punching neighbors? Those are simply ignored when you go to the financial value of a court. We provide a service that makes the community more civil," he said.

The story is "Part of a six-day series that began Sunday looking at how salaries and benefits of the mayors, managers, judges, clerks, controllers and council members in Lake's 19 cities and towns affect the cost of local government."

Another story in the series, on municipal paychecks in Lake County, reports:

Many Lake County communities supplement elected officials' salaries with drinking water, stormwater, sewer, refuse and utility fees they collect, and award longevity pay or stipends for attending community board meetings. The public must piece together all of an official's salary stream to arrive at their full compensation.

Local taxpayers also are tapped for the expense of providing medical, dental and life insurance, their public pensions, and Social Security and Medicare benefits, which in the cases of full-time elected officials can push their total compensation 25 percent or more above their salary.

A Times Media Co. survey of local and state records of mayors around the state indicates seven of this county's mayors and town managers are among the top-income earners.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson is at the top of the pay scale at $142,096.

Just below her, former Munster Town Manager Tom DeGuilio was on track to receive an annual salary of $135,966 before the town council declined to renew his contract last summer. East Chicago's Mayor Anthony Copeland was paid $129,408, and Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. $104,807 the same year.

Lake's mayors and town managers make an average salary of just more than $91,500 — three times the average per capita income of their 12 communities and higher than 63 of 68 mayors and city and town managers around the state, as reported to the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns' annual salary survey.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on August 6, 2015 09:03 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts | Indiana Government