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County discusses Goodwater PD tickets, senior center
By Christa Jennings
During last Tuesday morning’s County Commission meeting, with all commissioners present, there was much discussion relating to tickets issued by Goodwater Police Department.
Goodwater Mayor Lonnie Caldwell was in attendance for the meeting, but turned the floor over to Councilmember Elmore Unbehant to speak on the matter. The primary point of the discussion was relating to how little money Goodwater receives from tickets written in its jurisdiction and a request for the commission to consider some way to get more money to the town.
“This is kind of a can that we’ve kicked down the road a lot of times over the years,” Unbehant said. “In the early 2000s, there were fees placed on tickets written in Coosa County, which go directly either to the commission or to the sheriff for upkeep and maintenance of the jail. That happens from any ticket written in Coosa County, whether it be by the sheriff’s deputies, State Troopers, or the Goodwater Police Department.”
Unbehant added, “If a Goodwater police officer writes a speeding ticket in Goodwater right in front of the police department, the sheriff gets $70 of it. Nothing against you, sheriff; it’s just that’s where that money goes. We, honestly, at Goodwater would like some of those funds back. We can’t function as a law enforcement agency and we receive $19 of a ticket.”
During his presentation to the commission, Unbehant went on to explain what they were asking of the commissioners.
“This is a long drawn out conversation, but what we want to ask you is that you be willing to work with us to try to find some sort of means to possibly funnel some of these funds back to the municipality,” he said. “We’re just asking for some help here.”
County attorney John K. Johnson and the commission, along with Unbehant, went on to discuss the associated court costs and applicable constitutional amendments relating to those.
During ongoing discussion, Johnson, Unbehant and Commissioner Unzell Kelley mentioned that a local act passed in 2004 allows for a $20 “service fee,” according to Johnson, that goes to the Sheriff’s Office and can be put into the sheriff’s discretionary fund.
In further discussion, Johnson said that they would need a new constitutional amendment to change any other previous constitutional amendments.
Unbehant clarified, “I’m not here asking anyone to change a law, so I hope I didn’t convey that because that is not what I brought up. What I am saying is, the $50 plus the $20-plus all comes to the county by tickets that are written in Goodwater by the Goodwater officers. What we’re asking is for some kind of means for funding to come back to the community of Goodwater in support of whatever program that is appropriate, as a means of some sort of compensation for the county making money off of Goodwater.”
As the discussion progressed, the town’s senior center was also brought up for discussion, with the commission including funds in the county budget for the Rockford Senior Center and the West Coosa Senior Center in Stewartville.
“Two meetings ago, at a commission meeting, and what I’ve researched and found is that you guys support every senior center in the county except ours, even the one here in the Town of Rockford,” Unbehant said. “We have to foot our own bill because we want that for our seniors. We’re only asking for some support and some help if it’s possible to do.”
Commissioner Bertha McElrath spoke up to clarify that some funds do go to the senior center every year and that she personally has tried to ensure the center gets some funds.
Unbehant clarified, “The commission itself does not appropriate any funds to the Goodwater Senior Center.”
In ongoing discussion regarding that, Commissioner Unzell Kelley asked how much is appropriated to the senior center, based on what McElrath brought up, or if the funds go to the youth center.
County Administrator Bridget Graham said, “There are several organizations in Goodwater that do get appropriations from the County Commission.”
As discussion continued and the topic turned back to focus on the police tickets, Kelley said they had previously worked out “somewhat of a solution” with former Sheriff Terry Wilson.
“Out of that $20 service of papers… Sheriff Wilson did, based on the way that $20 is split up, I think $5 even comes to the county the way it’s split up… The county gets $5, the sheriff gets $10 or $15, but Sheriff Wilson did offer as a solution to allow either $4 or $5 of every ticket coming out of that court cost to go back to Goodwater for those tickets written in Goodwater, which at least would return some dollars to the City of Goodwater,” Kelley said. “All of that communication stopped, and it never got addressed again. In terms of something like a payment in lieu of, I think what I’m hearing [Unbehant] and the mayor asking for, may be something we can look at if we paid off the bond issue for the jail, and those 50 dollars are coming into the general fund going toward the operation of the law enforcement center. There may be something there that may can be worked out based on the number of tickets written in Goodwater. I just think that’s fair.”
Commission Chair Todd Adams agreed with Kelley’s sentiments in regards to the number of tickets written and how the county may be able to help.
“That’s exactly what I was thinking – if there’s some way we can see exactly how many tickets are written in their municipality and how much comes to us, see what kind of money we’re talking about, then maybe we can appropriate some money to something,” Adams said.
“That’s all we’re asking for,” Unbehant stated.
The floor was then turned over to Mayor Caldwell, who had been waiting to speak.
“The situation could be a win/win situation for you all and us, because right now how many tickets are they writing? Hardly none,” Caldwell said. “The thing of it is, if we can get money from it, it’s going to increase what you all get. Right now both of us are sitting here with nothing hardly from up in there. You don’t get that many tickets written there. My thing is, if we’re not getting much of it, why should we do it?”
During that discussion, Graham spoke up saying that she had verified some information relating to the matter with the senior center.
“I’d like to clarify the senior center question,” Graham said. “The City of Goodwater does receive $1,500 for the senior center, as does Peace and Goodwill, so we do support the other senior centers in the county.”
Caldwell responded, “What I need is something to go to the police department. We pay out $260,000 a year – might not be anything for you all – but I can’t give a raise because the money’s not there.”
After much discussion, it was ultimately voiced in agreement to look into the number of tickets Goodwater Police Department writes and how much money goes to the county to see about allocating some funds to Goodwater.
“We will work on that, chairman and commission, and we will submit that over to you,” Unbehant said.
However, regarding the senior center issue, he added, “In the grand scheme of things, based off of what I’ve seen y’all spent here at Rockford at that senior center, $1,500 is a drop in the bucket to what it takes to run a senior center.”
Commissioner Randall Dunham stated, “As District 1 commissioner, the senior center in District 1 is in my district, and believe me, people, I have asked. I love all seniors, but I’ve asked how can we fund these other senior centers and Goodwater is not getting anything. And my answer was that Goodwater owns the senior center; that’s why we couldn’t give any money to it.”
Regarding the renovations and work done to the old school to make it the new Rockford Senior Center, Commissioner Ronnie Joiner stated, “Well let me say this since this is in my district. The city got the grant to remodel that. The county had nothing to do with it. We haven’t spent anything on it. The building was donated…”
Unbehant spoke up saying, “Y’all spent $8,000 on electrical [for the Rockford Senior Center] two meetings ago.”
During ongoing discussion, Kelley stated, “The County Commission funds West Coosa and Rockford totally. The thing is with the new center, basically we wanted Rockford to have some skin in the game. They have an ADECA city fund in which they could apply for grants, just like Goodwater and Kellyton, and they weren’t using it. Here we are as a county with multiple issues facing us, and most of the time we try to do resurfacing grants so we can show the rest of the county they’re getting something for their tax dollars. The town did agree to go to ADECA and apply for that grant to do what is being done with the entire old school. I’m just saying we have to be fair to everyone, and if we can help, let’s help. At the end of the day, everybody in the county deserves service. How much that is I ain’t going to say now, because we have obligations as a county. We have obligations, but if we can be fair I think we do need to be fair.”
McElrath added that she has directed many of her projects to Goodwater and said that any opportunity that she has had to bring something to Goodwater, she has taken it.
She said she also had her PLAN project revolve around Goodwater and that she chose that area to help bring something back to the community.
“It doesn’t really cushion what you’re asking for, but hopefully somewhere in the future we can get something done, but that’s why I spent a lot of time in Goodwater with projects,” she said.
“Commissioner McElrath, the projects you’ve done and the efforts you’ve made over in our community, they’ve been invaluable, OK? Let me just say that,” Unbehant said. “We appreciate it. Don’t think for a second that it goes unnoticed because it doesn’t. We appreciate it, we know you’re there, and we’re glad for you.”
Commissioner Dunham spoke up regarding his contributions, saying, “Can I say that I’ve made contributions toward some of those projects, too?”
“We appreciate both of our commissioners,” Unbehant stated.
He went on to add, “We’re just asking for a little flexibility and some open-mindedness here going forward for something sustainable. We’re just looking for something sustainable down the road, to work together and make it better for everybody, and we’re just looking for fairness.”
Sheriff Michaell Howell also said that he is more than willing to work with Goodwater in any aspect and help the municipality in any way possible. He added that the meeting was the first he was hearing about the issue and that he had not been able to do his research on it, but he asked for further information regarding tickets and the process relating to those.
No action was taken following discussion on the two issues. Discussion of the Goodwater airport was also on the commission agenda, but when asked about that Mayor Caldwell responded, “We’ll talk about it later.”
Outside of the commission meeting, in later conversation Circuit Clerk Anita Spivey provided information on the breakdown of costs associated with tickets.
She explained that tickets which only include a fine and no court costs, such as a seatbelt violation, then the city keeps all or most of the money from those tickets.
However, for tickets involving court costs, such as speeding tickets, the town receives less than 10% of the total ticket cost.
Spivey used a basic speeding ticket as an example, saying that the total ticket would be $266.
Of that total amount, she said $246 is court costs and the remaining $20 is the fine.
The total court cost is broken down with $160 being statewide court costs that go to the state and the remaining $86 being for Coosa County local acts, with that $86 going into the county’s general fund.
Of the $20 fine, she said that $18 goes to Goodwater, and the remaining $2 goes to the state for court costs.
Therefore, out of a $266 speeding ticket, the town only receives $18, or about 7% of the ticket cost.
For coverage of the remainder of the County Commission meeting, see next week’s edition.