An item in the Ohio House of Representatives biennial budget proposal could consolidate the clerk of courts offices in Clark County, if approved.
The proposal would eliminate the office of the Municipal Clerk of Courts in Clark County and roll its duties into the Clark County Clerk of Courts Office, according to House Bill 49, which was released Tuesday morning. The item was listed as part of recommendations made by the Ways and Means committee.
EARLIER COVERAGE: Clark Co. court cases declining, but not staffs
The amendment to the house budget proposal was added by State Representative Kyle Koehler (R-Springfield).
“We think it’s an important way for the city and county to save money,” Koehler said.
Neither Springfield City Manager Jim Bodenmiller or Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland were aware that legislation combining the Clerk of Courts positions had been introduced, they said.
“I don’t have enough information at the present time to know the cost implications for the city,” Bodenmiller said.
Municipal Court Clerk Guy Ferguson hadn’t heard of the possible consolidation being legislated until he was contacted by the News-Sun on Tuesday afternoon.
“I would have to read the bill and see the legislation before I would want to comment on it,” said Ferguson, who is in his 34th year in office. “I don’t know what it says. This is the first I’ve heard of it.”
Any changes to the court system have to be approved by the state legislature.
Lawmakers reviewed the proposed changes in the House Finance Committee Tuesday. More changes and an omnibus amendment is expected Monday. Once the House gives its approval, the bill moves to the Ohio Senate for consideration. Legislators face a June 30 deadline to adopt the budget bill.
State Senator Bob Hackett (R-London) could not be reached for comment.
Although the city pays the majority of the budget for the municipal court and the clerk’s office, it does not have any control over staffing or spending because judges and clerks are elected officials.
The move is not politically-motivated, Koehler said. Local municipalities have been speaking out about cuts to the local government fund over the past six years, he said.
Koehler recently passed legislation to allow the state auditor to examine ways the city and county can work together, but it hasn’t happened as they’ve asked for two income tax increases, he said. The city also declined to be a part of the state treasurer’s online checkbook program, which keeps track of government spending, Koehler said.
“These are things they could be doing to help people see where money’s going and to make sure we’re spending money wisely,” Koehler said.
The clerk’s office is an area where services can be consolidated, he said.
“We can save a big chunk of taxpayer dollars,” Koehler said.
The municipal clerk’s office requested about $1.83 million for this year, but the city cut its budget 10 percent, or about $182,000, to about $1.64 million, according to the city’s 2017 budget. The city is facing a nearly $600,000 deficit at the end of this year. It is asking voters to approve a .4-percent, 5½-year temporary income tax increase on May 2.
The city of Springfield spent about $1.66 million in 2014 and $1.68 million in 2015 on the municipal court’s office. Last year, it spent about $1.72 million.
The Clark County Municipal Court saw more than 26,000 cases in 2015, according to statistics compiled by the Ohio Supreme Court.
The total caseload for the municipal court is down 25 percent since 2000, according to information provided by the clerk’s office.
The consolidation could create better efficiency and cost savings, Clark County Clerk of Courts Melissa Tuttle said, as well as improved case management and technology. She’s currently working to make the clerk’s office more user-friendly, including data imaging, online payment options and electronic filings.
“I’m trying to do as much as I can to provide a better service,” Tuttle said.
The consolidation could also lead to bringing the various divisions together under one location, she said. The clerk of courts office currently has locations at both the Clark County Municipal Courthouse, the Common Pleas Courthouse and the A.B. Graham Building.
“It would be nice to have a one stop shop,” Tuttle said. “I would try to keep as much as the municipal court staff as possible if it’s feasible.”
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