Mr. Mayor, Council, and fellow citizens,
I am a pioneer of and new to St. James. Meaning I wasn't born here but grew up here. Moved away and moved back. Went to school here, then a different school, then back again.
I have decided this is where I want to raise my family. This is where I want to work and be a part of a community. This is where I want my children to grow and become educated and volunteer. If I reach my goals in business, this is where I want my business. And if by chance I get a speeding ticket, this is where I'd want to pay my fines—in St. James!
I was shocked to hear the last council meeting was so adamant about growth yet wanted to abolish our own municipal court. Growth would be to evolve this, not abolish it.
There has to be another way to conclude a functional budget without relying on Rolla to be our judicial system. I understand technically it's not Rolla and it's Phelps County. But technically it is Rolla, as well.
My family and I moved here to avoid living in Rolla, or any bigger city, and dealing with such things that come with that type of environment. Especially the cold, lack of community, big-city vibe.
This would include the judicial system. Phelps County/Rolla is already over worked and behind schedule as it is in many areas of their judicial system. To them we could be considered just a case number on the docket. I feel like our citizens are more than a number.
I know there are many that agree with me. Most of our citizens have lived here their whole lives. I myself have lived here many times throughout my life and have always had a close connection with this town and the calm sense of community within. Not only do I feel St. James citizens do not want to have to deal with the courthouses and judges in Rolla (Phelps County), but if any of our children ever made a minute mistake and had to go before a court, we would prefer a local judge to hear that case, not an overworked city (county) judge handling multiple jurisdictions, risking something falling through the cracks, being misconstrued, or not being handled swiftly, or just, or fair.
Should our children face harsh repercussions and risk jading their futures just because an overworked system failed to see it as a minor mistake or a brief lack in judgement? Do our families want to deal with the juvenile office recommendations and possible involvement of other agencies, just because it's policy and those in charge did not have time to listen to details or know specially what that family is doing themselves to rectify the situation? A lot of suffering can come from something being pushed through quickly just to get it off an overcrowded desk, or docket.
I did listen into the last council meeting and was shocked to hear that this was going to be possibly pushed through so quickly, without much explanation or notice to the public. Something this drastic will impact St. James as a community.
I, for one, would truly feel betrayed by the council if this had passed and I hadn't found out until after the fact. I truly feel we, as citizens, should have more unbiased information about this topic and more public notice before its even discussed as a topic to possibly voted on by council.
Are there other places we can make cuts to procure an efficient budget? What becomes of the municipal building? As of now a fine is $26.50. Will that go up? And if so, how much? Does St. James receive that or does it go to the county? How much do we actually save, or is it that we won’t save and will end up paying more for the services provided by the county?
There are all questions the public will have afterwards, plus more, that should be planned and made public before moving forward. Facebook Live is not enough. This is a town with families, businesses, and individuals, not a gamble to make irrational, uneducated guesses of what may or may not benefit us.
I did hear in the meeting the concern for the budget needs. I also noticed the last two years were highly taken into account in this argument. I would argue that the last two years should most definitely not be taken into account. Outside economic failures, radical political changes, and a global pandemic have all drastically influenced the past couple years and it would seem unfair and unreasonable to hold our municipal court responsible for any budget discrepancy during this time. Most of the financial impacts this court has probably faced in the last two years would have been out of administrative control.
It's also my opinion that as we head into being more of a tourist-attracted town we would greatly benefit from keeping a municipal court. With more tourists will come more need for enforcing ordinances. With a rise of the amount of people visiting our town, there will, regrettably, be a rise in ordinances broken.
I am all for the growth, while maintaining our small-town aesthetic and appeal, but with growth comes more issues, lawbreakers being one. This is a downside on one hand, but can be an upside on the other, with respect to our budget concerns with our local municipal court. This could actually be profitable to St. James. Do we really want to wait to regain our profits from the tickets sent to the county to reap the benefits? Do we want to pay the extra processing fees and court cost to the county or keep it in St. James as the ticket numbers increase?
Eliminating our municipal court doesn't eliminate our need for municipal court. We would basically be subcontracting out our needs. We will still be paying for these services we get here at home. We would need to pay for our officers overtime for driving the extra distance and staying the extra hours in an overworked and overcrowded courthouse—or even multiple days depending on if the judges can get to that case in that day or if it runs over and has to be rescheduled, which is common and frequent from what I understand. Now we are paying even more, just for time.
Our clerk, our prosecutor, they are still needed. Additionally our citizens would not have the luxury of going to the local courthouse but would be burdened by having to drive to Rolla. Do we really want to burden our citizens with the stress of leaving St. James when dealing with something most would already consider stressful?
From what I've heard from Judge Skouby, during the last council meeting, we already have an issue with people not showing up to court to pay fines. Does it make sense to make it even harder on those people to pay the fines and risk getting even less compensation than we are now or waiting for lengthier time periods?
Rolla continues to grow and their jurisdictions are vast within the court system. But if we give our court to Rolla, Phelps County, what else will we have to give? When they widen borders will we allow them to vote our way because they already have our court? When they increase taxes, will our citizens be even more burdened when going to court for a traffic violation?
Also I'd like to remind everyone that just because a Phelps County court judge is trying these cases, it will not change the outcome. As stated in the previous meeting, they cannot legally place someone in jail for not paying their fines.
I kept hearing an issue with enforcement, yet do you, the city, not make the ordinances which grant our judge and prosecutor the ability to punish. Are we providing our judge and our municipal court the ability to enforce?
Furthermore, has the city given our prosecutor the legal ordinances to be able to request these punishments from our judge? If the city has not created city ordinances, then there is no way to further punish violators more harshly than what the law currently permits.
I have heard that Judge Skouby has been our judge for 22 years, correct me if that's inaccurate. Judges are voted in. The fact that one man has been voted to be our town’s judge for that many years speaks volumes! Clearly this man has St. James and its citizens best interests at heart. Are we really willing to lose a member of our community that has so well served St. James for over 20 years, and has been chosen by our citizens? Over a budget gap of 50k? Clearly our people want him in office, clearly our people trust our municipal court, and clearly this could possibly hurt our community to remove such a pillar like the St. James municipal court system and the honorable Judge Skouby and his staff.
I'm sure instead of demolishing our municipal court, our council could boost efforts to create ways to encourage the revenue the court brings.
I propose the budget committee present more options to the public and the council before attempting to vote in a budget that clearly does not have St. James and its citizens best interest in mind.
I truly appreciate your time and thank you for allowing me to be heard. I hope and pray that this council truly considers my opinions and thoughts, that I know, are shared by so many others within our community.
A professional, a volunteer, a mother, a concerned citizen of St. James.
Candice L. Dent