Warren County commissioners are seeking what’s being called “creative revenue” to fund a jail expansion by increasing court cost revenue from $10 a case to $60.
“We are looking for creative revenue,” said Warren County assistant attorney Robert Bratcher. “There is authorized by Tennessee Code Annotated a privilege tax, a litigation tax, to be charged to litigants in courts in Warren County. We currently collect a $10 per litigant charge that has been in effect since 2000.”
Over the last 17 years, said Bratcher, the state has approved additional charges that qualifying counties can collect and use for jail or workhouse construction, reconstruction, and upgrading to retire debt associated with jail or workhouse construction, or on courthouse renovations.
“The current status is there are now two additional statutes that we could be collecting for litigation taxes, $25 for each of them. These are charged to anybody in a civil or criminal case. If you are filing a case for a civil matter, you need a divorce or to have someone evicted, whatever it may be, you have to pay this as your court cost to have the case heard. If you are a criminal defendant, it’s the same thing.”
One of the two taxes can also be used for courthouse security.
“They are essentially identical in wording with the exception that one of them has an earmark that permits it to be used for courthouse security, as well as jail or workhouse construction, reconstruction, upgrading, or to retire debt associated with jail or workhouse construction,” said Bratcher. “The other one is the exact same but it doesn’t permit it to be used for courthouse security. You could use all $50 for jail construction. If you wanted to use some of it for courthouse security, you could use up to $25.”
Bratcher was asked to look into the increase by Commissioner Terry Bell and the information was presented during Tuesday’s Budget and Finance Committee meeting.
Bells says the additional revenue could bring in $230,000 annually, if the amount of paid court costs remains unchanged.
“Last year, we collected $46,000 so that would be 4,600 cases,” said Bell. “If you times 4,600 by 50 that would be $230,000 worth of additional revenue. Last year, we spent $87,000 on maintenance at the jail out of our county building fund. We could take that money and use that somewhere else.”
Bratcher was hesitant to put a number on it.
“There is no way to know for sure,” he said. “This would be a notoriously difficult number to predict. What I can tell you is we are collecting $10 and we would be moving up to $60. It would be a $50 increase. That’s a substantial change. It should produce some good revenue.”
Committee members unanimously approved both measures. They will be sent to the full Warren County Commission for consideration Aug. 21.
By state requirement, the resolutions must receive two-thirds majority vote in order to pass, which is greater than the threshold of one-half used on other resolutions.