- Michael Cooper Staff Writer
Springfield city commissioners have agreed to pay the entire $2.68 million budget requested by the Clark County Municipal Court, more than eight months after they approved a 10 percent cut to the court.
The Clark County Municipal Court filed an order against the city of Springfield last week, demanding city commissioners fully fund its proposed operating budget this year. It ordered the city to certify a copy of the budget appropriation by 3 p.m. Friday, July 7.
So city commissioners held an executive session Wednesday night to discuss the court order and then unanimously approved an additional $267,000 for the court.
“We didn’t think there was any purpose to be served as far as a legal battle on this,” Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland said.
“I’m pleased that things ended up finally where they needed to be,” Municipal Court Judge Eugene Nevius said.
The court still has unresolved issues regarding the municipal clerk’s budget — which was also cut as part of the city’s budget process last November — and legal fees incurred, he said.
“I won’t open any other issues until that’s resolved,” Nevius said.
The decision made Wednesday complied with the court order, Law Director Jerry Strozdas said. The cuts to the municipal court clerk’s budget weren’t discussed as part of that order, he said.
“We have appropriated the amount of money their order required,” Strozdas said.
During its fall budget meetings, the court asked for about $2.68 million this year but city commissioners voted to allot the court $2.4 million as it made cuts citywide to address a shortfall. Since then Springfield voters passed an income tax increase that will generate an additional $6.7 million annually.
The city still wants to speak with the judges about future budget cuts as it continues to look for ways to save money, Copeland said.
“This problem is not going to go away,” he said. “We have budget issues and the levy did not solve that.”
As those cuts were being prepared, Copeland said the city didn’t give the court enough of a warning about them to have a genuine conversation.
“We would hope to have such a conversation this year and see where it goes,” he said. “It’s unlikely we’re going to get to a good result through the courts.”
While a divided city commission passed the budget in December, commissioners unanimously approved the use of about $450,000 from the court’s Future Facilities, Special Projects and Municipal Court Improvement Funds to pay for the cuts at the municipal court and the municipal clerk of courts office.
Judges later told the Springfield News-Sun it was illegal to use money from its revenue-generating funds — such as court costs — to pay for its operations. City leaders disagreed and still believe their proposal to cover budget cuts to the judicial system is legal.
Judges told city leaders last winter to fund its operation in full because any cut in funding could lead to layoffs of six to nine employees who are needed to run the court efficiently, including probation officers and security.
In a June 8 letter to commissioners, the three judges said the funds are established for specific purposes, not general use, such as operating money.
The court asked for about $2.55 million in 2016, but operated at about $2.5 million, the letter says. The court asked for more money this year due to increases in health-care costs, which it says are negotiated by the city and out of the court’s control.
The Ohio Supreme Court offers a mediation service between courts and government entities struggling to come to terms over budgets, but judges alleged the city wasn’t interested in that because the sessions would have been public.
The court will continue to work with the city about future budget issues, Nevius said.
“We’ll get past this and we’ll see where it all goes,” Nevius said. “This was a big hurdle to get past.”
The municipal court will continue to provide great service for the community as a separate branch of government, he said.
“We’re not an agency or a department, we’re a separate branch of government,” Nevius said