The Analysis Report/Agenda for the June 3 Metro Council meeting is out. Two bills on second reading propose taking advantage of State law and closing some of the revenue gap in sources to cover expenses.
ORDINANCE NO. BL2008-214 (JAMESON) – This ordinance authorizes the imposition of a $45.00 litigation tax on all criminal cases in Davidson County and designates CASA, Inc. as the agency to receive the funds. State law allows local governments to impose a $45.00 “victims assistance assessment” to create a program or fund an existing program that assists victims of crime and their families.
ORDINANCE NO. BL2008-218 (COLE & GARRETT) – This ordinance, as amended, repeals Ordinance No. BL2001-777 pertaining to the waiver of credit card processing fees. Credit card companies charge merchants a fee for accepting the cards at their places of business. Since Metro accepts certain credit cards for the payment of a variety of fees and services, Metro is charged the processing fee in the same manner as other merchants. State law requires that local governments set and collect a debit and credit processing fee equivalent to the amount the government is charged when these methods are used for payments, provided the processing fee charged these persons cannot exceed five percent of the payment collected. However, oddly enough, the state law was amended to allow governments to waive this processing fee if they wish to do so. In 2001, the Council enacted Ordinance No. BL2001-777 to waive the credit/debit card processing fee. It was the thought at the time of enactment that waiving the fee would encourage persons owing money to the Metropolitan Government to pay in a more timely manner, which would result in quicker payments to Metro. However, the fee waiver has been costing the Metropolitan Government millions of dollars a year.
I think given the state of the economy and the Metro budget, we're going to see more of this creative fundraising. I can't bring myself to agree with the $45 assessment on "any person who enters a guilty plea or is found guilty of committing a criminal offense for which a maximum possible punishment exceeds $500 and for which jail time is possible." As the ordinance analysis points out, it "is in addition to all other taxes, court costs, and fines." This is basically a tax on losing your case--a guilt tax. I don't think you ever want the citizens to associate the prosecution of criminals with program funding. These revenue games do not help the image of government as the enforcer of justice.
The credit and debit card fees bill, though it takes a bit out of everyone's pocket, makes a lot more sense. It recovers the actual cost of doing business and it is applied equally to all who access the service.