Chattanooga City Council debating the future of city court
If you have ever gotten a ticket in Chattanooga for running a red light, trespassing or even littering, you typically appear before a judge in city court.
But that may change.
City council members are considering moving on without one. Councilman Chip Henderson says it takes more $2 million dollars to run city court, which is included in Mayor Andy Berke's budget for fiscal year 2020. Henderson says it prompted the question, whether there is a cheaper way to enforce city ordinances.
Keeping city court open is something council members have battled for years.
“I'm for delivering services efficiently as possible. However that looks like in Chattanooga,” Henderson said.
Henderson says it serves a great purpose, but is limited on how it enforces city law and some residents don't take its consequences seriously.
“They are limited to a $50 fine. Many offenders see that as the cost of doing business and somehow we have to do better than that,” Henderson explained. “Is there a better way to handle that? Would taking all of those cases to circuit court be a more efficient way to handle that? Those are the questions that we have to ask…would we still get the same kind of service that is being offered now.”
In city court, there are two judges over two divisions; environmental and traffic. Code enforcement officers within those divisions, have the ability to cite someone and send them to city court if they violate city law. Now, council members are suggesting those violators be sent to circuit court. Henderson says a benefit analysis needs to be done to see if that's a possibility.
“When you do a benefit analysis there are two questions. The first is the why, why would you do that and then if there's a why then you figure out the how. That's really what needs to happened as we're looking at whether we're going to keep city court or not.”
There have been no decisions made regarding the future of city court, but city council will continue discussing the budget. There are public hearings scheduled:
A public hearing for the budget will be at the June 11 council meeting at 6 p.m. The council will vote on the budget on June 18 and June 25 at the 6 p.m. council meetings.
Four budget education sessions will be held on May 28, June 4 and June 11, each from 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m., and June 18 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.