Mono County Superior Court is the latest local victim of budget cuts by the State of California.
“The court is facing a financial crisis,” said Court Executive Officer Hector Gonzalez at Tuesday’s Mono County Board of Supervisors meeting. “We have always been particularly well-managed and have never counted our pennies and dimes, but now we need to raise revenue.”
Now, however, it seems the State Administrative Office of the Courts is looting the reserves of local court branches, including Mono County’s.
Which is why, this week, Gonzalez came before the Board to discuss enhanced court revenue collections of delinquent accounts, and the possibility of entering into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the County.
The County/Court agreement in the past has been a handshake deal, according to new County Finance Director Leslie Chapman, but the enhanced system would need to be more formal.
Currently, the County and the Court trade services.
“The collection of fines and fees are usually a county responsibility,” Gonzalez said. “But the Court has done it for the County.” He added that Mono County was the last county in the state without a court-enhanced MOU.
Basically, the Court would like to collect delinquent failure to appear fees and failure to pay fees.
“It would be different because they have not actively been collecting,” Chapman told The Sheet.
The money collected belongs to the County, which is why the Court needs the County’s blessing, she continued. “They would tack on collection fees to the delinquent fees to raise revenues.”
An employee would need to be hired to focus on the delinquent fee collection, and Gonzalez asked the Board to pitch in for some of the salary.
“The Court would put some money in as well, because we do want some skin in the game,” Gonzalez said.
“The money the County would look at putting in would be money that comes from the collections,” Chapman explained to The Sheet. “And we wouldn’t see that money unless it was collected.”
“Hiring an employee gets money back,” Gonzalez continued on Tuesday. “For a small investment of $30,000-$40,000 you could collect hundreds of thousands.”
The Board, however, was very uneasy with the discussion because, as Supervisor Tim Fesko said, “There are too many ‘ifs’ and ‘what’s’.”
Due to a miscommunication between County staff and Gonzalez, his presentation documents were not included in the packet and the Board was just seeing the information he provided for the first time. It was concerned that there weren’t any specifics regarding the real cost of the employee in question.
Gonzalez agreed. “You’re right, let us give you more information so you can make an informed decision.”
He did, however, press that the Court was counting on the money projected in fee collections. “This is your jurisdiction, but somebody has to do this.” He pushed to come before the Board as close to the end of the fiscal year as possible. The item will return to the agenda at one of the first meetings in June.