Knox City and Starke County officials put their heads together this week to see if they could come up with making the Knox City Court solvent. The court, which handles judicial matters from throughout the city and county, is running close to $100,000 in the red. Officials and others gathered for a work session Tuesday night before the regular Knox City Council meeting.
While sympathetic to the problem, county officials expressed that there was little they could do to help the city. Commission President Dan Bridegroom said statutorily, the county could not help fund the City Court.
“The issue is how do we figure out a way, collaborating between the city and county, to run City Court,” said Bridegroom. “I don’t believe we could run all the cases through our court that the City of Knox run through theirs. It just wouldn’t be possible.”
Bridegroom also conceded that if Knox officials dropped the court it would be quite expensive to set up another county court to take on the cases now heard in City Court. He did say the Prosecutor’s Office might be able to release some pre-trial diversion funds.
“Pre-trial diversion is the big topic here. That, by statute, goes to the Prosecutor. That is their money and whatever they want to do with it is up to them. Now, if he wishes to give a little back to the city, then he can. Again, he’s going to have make sure he can run his office before he gives away any money.”
City Court Judge, Charles Hasnerl, said he might have to “tighten the belt”, too.
“I have to take it upon myself as well to look at those numbers. We need to do some number crunching and some belt tightening. With the technology that’s available out there now, we may have some options to cut some costs along the way. I’m going to be taking a hard look at that,” said Judge Hasnerl.
Hasnerl thanked Mayor Rick Chambers for bringing the stakeholders together to work on the problem.
“They have a concern. I addressed this a couple of meetings ago and the Council shared those concerns. I acknowledge that we’re not in the black here, but we’re a government entity. Our job is not to make money, we’re not in business. Our job is to dispense justice.”
Officials have until 2014 to come up with solutions to help the city close the financial gap. That is the first opportunity the city officials would have to possibly close City Court and hand it back over to the county.